Wandering Guardians

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter Fourteen

    The two slipped back into town through a large crack in the north side of the city wall of which Emmie knew. On the other side, a row of ramshackle abandoned homes were built right next to the wall, screening the crack from view. The crack and the crawl space behind it were both very tight. They were the perfect size for Emmie, which was why she'd often used them, but Egilhard had to squeeze through after removing his bow, quiver and sword, carrying them in front of him in one hand.
    Emmie ogled the weapons as he struggled through the crawl space to join her in the alley beyond the houses. The bow was carved from wood with a reddish tint. It was one of the largest she'd ever seen; it was almost as tall as Egilhard himself, and he was not a small man. His sword was similarly oversized; judging from the sheath, its blade was at least six inches longer than the swords carried by the guards, and the hilt was several inches longer as well. Strangest of all, neither weapon had any ornamentation. Most nobles, almost all of whom were trained as knights, had their weapons decorated with jewels and precious metal, and even the guards' weapons had some bronze accents or wire on the hilt. This one was bare steel with a simple wooden grip. She put it out of her mind as he extricated himself from the narrow passage and reassembled his gear.
    "I'm glad you knew about that," he said quietly as he settled his bow back into place.
    "Really?" she asked doubtfully. "It seemed like you were having some trouble with it."
    "I was, but I'm not exactly afraid of trouble," he chuckled. "It got us back inside the city without being seen, and that's far more important than my comfort. I would, and have, squeezed through even tighter spaces. Now, where to?"
    "That way," she pointed down an alley to the east. "My other hiding place is in an abandoned warehouse," she said, then paused uncertainly. Keeping her hiding places secret was a well-ingrained habit for her now. Most street kids told at least one close friend the location of their sanctuary. Emmie was one of few who didn't, and now she was going to let a total stranger learn the location of both in a single night.
    She shook herself mentally and let go of the worry. Egilhard wouldn't see much value in the things she kept in her refuge anyway. She collected scraps and castoffs, while he could easily buy new. He'd already demonstrated that he wanted to help her, not steal from her. 
    "It's in a hidden room beneath the floor," she finished, setting off down the alley.
    "Alright," he nodded, following. She was sure he'd noticed her hesitation, but he ignored it.
    Back in the clearing, she'd emptied her hidey-hole of all the things she wanted to bring with her. She dug up the small cloth bag that contained her meager supply of coins and her parent's wedding rings, which someone had returned to her after their burial. She left behind things like the bulky cook-pot she used to store drinking water.
    The biggest thing she removed from the hole was a book. Her father had been slowly teaching her how to read it, and it somehow survived the fire. She hadn't progressed very far with reading before he'd died, and couldn't read much of it, but it was a link to her family that she didn't want to leave behind. Egilhard had seen it, but so far had offered no comment on it.
    While she was collecting her things, Egilhard examined the bodies of her assailants. When he returned, he held their torch and three bags that clinked with the sound of coins, one of which he handed to her. She peered into and gasped; the bag was over half full of Sous. The silver coins were the standard day-wage in Terfarine. Her bag had contained only Drams, a brass coin worth a tenth of a Sou, that she had found here and there over the last six months.
    "Are you sure we should be taking these?" she'd asked.
    "Yes," Egilhard declared firmly. "They stole it from people that earned it." He drew back his arm and threw the torch toward the pond; it sailed in an arc, flipping end over end, and with a brief hiss and a soft splash the light in the grove dimmed. "These men were some of the bandits the baron and the mayor won't admit are lurking around this area. On our way here, our caravan found the bodies of some of the men they killed." He tied the other two bags to his belt. "I've got no way of finding the rightful owners, so I'll settle for making sure their friends can't get it back."
    It made sense, Emmie thought, reflecting on it as they walked through Graybank's alleys.
    "Here it is," she whispered, stopping next to a door in a windowless building, one in a row of abandoned properties. "Keep as quiet as you can. I know that other street urchins sleep around here, and we all tend to be light sleepers."
    "Understood," he whispered back. Whether or not it was still necessary to protect her hiding place, it was too strong a habit to stop now.
    She pulled the door open noiselessly, revealing a large room full of empty shelves. Many were knocked over or broken, and there was litter scattered everywhere. Patches of moonlight from the holes in the roof illuminated the place. Emmie crossed the room to a small office on the right side at what would be the front of the building. It contained several more shelves, a large, heavy desk and a broken chair sitting on a frayed and worn rug. She flipped up a corner of the rug to reveal a trap door partway under the desk, which she opened and climbed into while Egilhard watched silently.
    Emmie knew what the secret cellar looked like. It was a short hallway with earth walls, one with a ladder leaned against it and the other three lined by shelves which now held her things, and her nest of blankets in one corner. Unfortunately, none of that was really visible right now. Holes in the roof above the office usually let enough light through the trapdoor for her to see when it was open, but the moonlight wasn't bright enough.
    Close to the ladder was a wooden beam, roughly in the center of the hall to support the floor of the warehouse above. If she could find that, she could feel out the location of everything else. She stretched out a hand and took a few careful steps, leaning forward. A quiet "thunk" was accompanied by her "Oww." She'd found the beam with her forehead.
    "Is everything alright down there?" Egilhard called softly from above.
    "Yeah," she sighed. "I usually wait until daylight before I try to find anything in here. I can't see."
    "Oh. Hang on a moment." He rummaged in a pocket, then handed down a small, carved stone. "This might help," he told her, then added several words she didn't understand.
    The stone gradually began to glow, until it shone like a small candle. She took it and gazed at it in awe; such utilitarian magic items were unusual in Terfarine, and this was the first time she'd ever handled one.
    "Thanks," she breathed belatedly, her manners nearly forgotten in wonder. "How did you get that?"
    "Where I come from, they're actually fairly common," he chuckled. "It's cheaper to use torches or candles, but this is less of a hassle if you're traveling.
    "No kidding," Emmie agreed, glancing ruefully at a row of candle stubs on a shelf. She picked up every one she found, but always had trouble getting them lit when she wanted to use one.
    Now that she was able to see in her little den, she scurried around it assembling the things she thought were worth taking along. The shelves were covered with various discarded odds and ends that she'd picked up against some possible future usefulness. There were small pieces of metal, string, wood, and other materials she used to try and make things she needed, with mixed results. There were also buttons, clasps, jars, shards of broken pottery, and any other finished article she thought she might be able to use, trade or sell. An entire shelf was devoted to pieces of cloth, the nicest of which she'd been saving to make a new dress.
    Most of the collection she'd be leaving. Like many of the things back at her hole, they would have little value to her on the move, even if she could carry them. She took some wooden eating utensils, a bowl and her worn flint and steel striker.  She also grabbed the needle she used to endlessly patch her dress, some thread, and the best of her blankets, which she rolled up. She stuffed them all in a canvas bag that had been hanging on a nail. Handing the glowing rock back up to Egilhard, she climbed back out of the cellar and added the rest of her things to the bag. He gave her an inquiring look.
    "The rest can stay," she murmured. "It's not going to help me now."
    He nodded and uttered a few more words she didn't understand, and the glow from the stone slowly faded. Once their eyes had adjusted to the dark, she closed up the cellar again and they went back out into the darkness.

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber