A Shimmer in the Shadows

Kade is a thief. He's not proud of it, but he has no choice now that his mother is dead and his father in prison. With three siblings to provide for, he has learned quickly to blend with the shadows, to leap from roof to roof, and to walk soundlessly.
He has no way of knowing that turn of events will lead him to see that many people are not who he thought them to be, and, most importantly, he is not who he thought himself to be.


I have been going back and forth on whether or not to publish my story, but I finally gave in and did it. :) I hope you enjoy this; I've enjoyed writing it so far! If you read, please comment and let me know what you liked and especially what I can change.
Thanks so much!
~CatsRabbits

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2. The Stablehand

 The next morning was even colder than the night before. Little flurries of snow drifted from the clouds and landed on rooftops and cobblestones, where they melted because it had been warmer only a few days before.

I walked more casually through the streets when it was light; lawguards had only night or day shifts, as far as I knew. Because I only went thieving at night, I wasn't too worried about being recognized during the day. Saige had told me I should be, because, in her words: "They've made warning posters with your picture on them! They tell each other about you; lawguards aren't as dumb as you think they are!"

 Ha. Yes they were. And I had seen those pictures. I didn't know who the drawing was supposed to be, but it definitely wasn't me.

 As I walked by the inn sign, I rapped it with my knuckles to get the powdery bits of snow off. The words Wilford and Son's Inn were painted underneath in crude black letters. I wasn't sure why, because Mr. Wilford had no sons—he'd never even had a wife, as far as I knew. He was quite an...unpleasurable person.

 It wasn't too surprising that the inn should have an irrelevant name, because this place was not the most ideal in the city. The rooms were small and drafty, Mr. Wilford was always cranky, and I heard that the food was bad, although I'd never tasted it. That was probably why he would take me as a stablehand, along with some other desperate boys. We were the only ones to ask him for a job; no one else wanted to work somewhere for such a low pay, and with hardly any patrons, he couldn't afford much more. I received enough money from here to buy a loaf of bread each week. Maybe not even that, after we set aside money for Layna's medicine. I was worried about her. She hadn't been getting any better.

A harsh voice ripped from the stables. “Boy! Get over here!”

 I jumped and my rumination was shattered like an icicle falling from the inn's roof. Mr. Wilford was waiting by the door, that all-too-familiar scowl adhered to his face.

 “Yes, sir?” I said, hurrying over to him.

  He regarded me with a face as cold as the drifting snowflakes. “You're late. Again.”

 “I know, Mr. Wilford. I'll get right to work.”

“Today is not the day to be late, boy. Trade Day is tomorrow and it's the busiest time of the year next to Festival! My inn is nearly full! I need the horses taken care of. An hour ago!”

 I winced. I didn't realize it had been that long since sunup. “I'm sorry, sir, really. Would you like me to get worki—”

 “Yes, boy!” Mr. Wilford yelled.

 I scampered into the stable, narrowly avoiding a clout from the innkeeper, and snatched up a pitchfork and a bucket. The other two stablehands were already here; Everett, who was around eighteen, and Tahan, who could have been ten or eleven. They both acknowledged me by nodding, and then went right back to their tasks. We were usually like that towards each other; the occasional conversation never lasted long. Although we’d never said much, each of us knew that the others had their own reasons to keep to themselves.

 A scrawny white mare looked up as I entered its stall. Speaking soothingly, I began to scoop manure into my bucket. By looking at the stuff, I could tell that this horse wasn’t the healthiest creature on the planet. (I won't elaborate.) I wouldn't expect her to be, because the patrons at Wilford and Son’s were mostly lower-class peddlers, not like the wealthy merchants who could afford other fancy inns.

 As I reached around the back of the horse with my pitchfork, she tossed her head and snorted nervously. Instinctively, I straightened up and backed away, not wanting to catch one of her restless hooves in my head. Looking around, I noticed that the other horses seemed just as nervous as she—they stamped their feet and the whites of their eyes flashed.

 “Magic-workers,” Everett murmured. He was peering through a stall window at the street outside.

 Following his gaze, I saw a trail of men, women, and children weaving through the other groups of people. They were each dressed in a flowing robe decorated with various runes and symbols. Many had jars and bags hanging from their belts, and a few carried long staffs. I could have sworn on of them was floating slightly.

 “What d'you think they're doing here?” Tahan whispered, also looking out the window. Before Everett or I could say anything, a lawguard approached the group and asked the same question.

 “What’s your business here? Foreign magic-workers are not welcome in Gyrbourne,” he grunted roughly.

 An old man in a brown, crystal-studded robe spoke. “We are merely passing through on our way to a peaceful gathering. We will not cause any trouble.”

 The lawguard snorted. “Your kind always do. Well, be on your way, then. No lingering.” He watched, arms folded, as the magic-workers shuffled along the street until they turned a corner and were gone.

‘*’

 The next day, after finishing with the horses, I decided to use the crowds for cover. There were always plenty of those on Trade Day. I hoped to be able to get a few foreign fruits to make up for that apple I had lost the other night.

 As I walked by a merchant who was arguing with a customer, I swiped a couple bottles of ink from his cart, slipping them into my vest pocket without stopping my leisurely pace. I felt bad stealing things like that, but Saige might have been able to resell them in the market, and then we could use the money to add to our savings for Layna or honestly buy some food. Well—not really honestly, if we used stolen goods to get the money… I sighed and kept walking. I passed by a fruit cart and grabbed an orange, spiky, pear-shaped thing. Around me, the sound of people’s voices blended together into a loud murmur, but one noise drifted to my attention.

 Clomp. Clomp.

 I held down the fluttering fear in my stomach. It’s nothing, I told myself, he wouldn’t know what you looked like, it was dark…

 The clomping steps sounded faster now; I tried to stay casual but my nerves were telling me to run.

 Anyone could have big boots. It doesn’t have to be—

 Whoever was behind me had definitely started running. My leisurely pace immediately quickened and I bolted towards the end of the trade road. It was hard to get through the masses of buyers and sellers; I ran into a cart that looked ironically like the cookware cart I had thrown my apple at. I didn't stop to see if it was, I just bounded over the falling pots and kept going. Glancing behind me, I could see the lawguard from the other night. Some of the people in the streets had started yelling, “Thief, thief! Catch him!” One man snatched out and grabbed my arm; I tried to yank away, but he was too strong.

 “Please, just let me go!” I grunted, pulling away, but it was too late. The lawguard had caught up. He had sandy-colored hair and looked as if wasn’t much older than I was, if he was older than me at all. The man who had my arm pulled me closer to himself and held my hands behind my back. I squirmed, but that was completely ineffective. His grip only tightened.

 “You… are under arrest for thievery...” the young lawguard panted as he pulled a chain from his belt pouch. Before he approached me with it, it clattered to the ground. I was an awful thief to let myself get caught by such a klutz. He picked the chain back up and locked it around my wrists, pride and satisfaction written all over his face.

 “I’ll help you bring him to the prison,” said the man who held me. Klutzy Lawguard looked relieved. That eliminated any chance of escaping during transport.

 My eyes watered. I wanted to punch someone, but I held back; that would just get me killed. Besides, there was no way I’d be able to swing my arms right now. I hoped Saige was capable of caring for the little ones alone…by trying to save their lives, I’d failed them all.

‘*’

 I was dragged through the gate that led to the expensive part of town. I’d only been there once; I had thought I might be able to get some better food for Festival Day. Usually everyone has a feast and sings songs, and I didn’t want my siblings to miss out. You wouldn’t believe the number of lawguards that traipsed around the area! It was no better during the day: they were still posted everywhere. A group of young lawguards—not as young as Klutzy, maybe in their twenties—stood near, talking to each other loudly.

 One of them laughed, looking at Klutzy, and said, “Hey, Caddock! What is that, a commoner? You too much of a slipgrip to hold on to a criminal?” Some of the other lawguards joined him in mocking laughter.

 “I don’t need him, he wanted to help!” Caddock (I supposed that was his surname) said, his ears reddening. He turned to the man who was holding me.

 “You are dismissed,” he told him authoritatively. “I can take it from here.”

 The man nodded, gave me to him, and walked away through the gate. Caddock’s grip was weak, and it loosened every few moments. I could get out of it for sure.

 “Don’t you dare try anything!” the young lawguard hissed in my ear, and walked me past the still-sniggering lawguards. I acted obedient for a few moments, and then jerked sideways. Caddock yelped as I knocked him to the ground, and his hands slipped easily from my wrists.

 “Hey!” some of the other lawguards called. I jumped through my arms so that they were in front of me and took off towards the gate.

 My bound arms were making it impossible to balance. I was moving too slowly and a couple lawguards cut me off. The taller one grabbed the collar of my shirt.

 “Let go of me!” I grunted, yanking back. Stupid me, how did I even think I could get away? My rash decisions were costing my life.

 “Good job, young ‘un, I told you you could do it without me,” said taller lawguard, still holding my collar. His gruff voice complemented his scruffy beard.

 Caddock stood and gripped my arm again, glaring at me with eyes of fire that seemed to say, You have just made a fool of me. In my opinion, he didn't need much help with that aspect of his personality.

 The other lawguard let go of my shirt.

 “So this is our little thief,” he said. “Will you need ‘elp gettin’ ‘im to the prison?”

 Caddock shook his head. “No, Master Edlon…well…”

 The lawguard laughed, but it sounded kind, and even a bit sympathetic. That tone was strange, coming from one of his type. “C’mon. I’ll take ‘im for you.” He pulled me away from Caddock, whose face was flushed in embarrassment. All this grabbing was making my arms numb.

 We walked for a while longer—or, rather, they walked and I was pulled—the lawguard chatting casually with Caddock. This man was quite talented: he was able to keep a good hold on me while still talking and remaining completely relaxed.

 “Don’ let those other guards get you down,” he said to Caddock. “They just want some’n to pick on, and since you’re so young and...ahem...it all just falls on you.”

 “Yes, Master Edlon.” Caddock said, still looking at the ground.

 “'Ow many times must I tell you that there's no need to call me ‘Master Edlon,’ young ‘un. Darin’ll do. I might be your trainer, but I’d like t'be your friend as well.”

 “Yes, sir—Darin.”

 Darin smiled. “Better, Ryker.”

  Ryker Caddock. Good for him, he had a full name. And he must have been this “Darin’s” apprentice, which would start to explain his age, but there still didn't seem to be any others as young as he was. I wriggled a bit more.

 “Stop that squirmin’, boy!” Darin said. “You’re goin’ into the jail whether you like it or not.”

 This was my chance. “But please, sir, I have siblings that are counti—”

 “Yes, I know, you ‘ave to feed and care for a family. Your kind always makes excuses like that. We’ve learned not to trust ‘em.”

 And yet, it’s true, I thought to myself, but I said nothing more. It was hopeless.

 The prison loomed into view in front of us. It was a dumpy, sagging, old building of wood and stone. Gaunt, sallow men gazed out of barred windows, their hollow expressions reflecting ages of seeing nothing but the same view, and eating nothing but the same bland diet. I shuddered to think about how that would be me in a few months, reaching my hand out into the fresh air, hoping someone would take pity and offer me fresh food.

 Of course, there was always the possibility that I'd be dead in a few months...no. Optimism, Kade. You won't be here long.

 Darin pulled me inside. Caddock was close behind, watching his trainer’s every move admiringly. The inside of the building had dirt floors; there were barred doors all around and lining a long hallway ahead of us. Through some I could see more miserable prisoners peering out.    

 “Would you like to enter ‘im in the book and do the checkin’ in? You caught ‘im, after all.”

 Caddock nodded and headed over to a pedestal, resting on which was a worn book and a charcoal stub. He fumbled with it for a moment, and then grasped it securely in his hand.

 “Name, please?” he said.

 “Kade.” I murmured. “Kade Griffin.”

  He nodded and I heard the charcoal scratch as he scribbled my name in the book.

 “Age?”

 “Fifteen.” More scratching. He mumbled to himself, “…dark hair...crime was theft…. All right.” Caddock came back around, untied my hands, and bid me to remove my coat and shoes. I did so hesitantly, and he took the ink bottles and spiky orange pear. He also took the knife and lockpick wires that were in the side of my boot. After patting my sides and legs to see that there were no more items concealed (which, unfortunately, there weren't), Caddock took me from Darin and brought me to the jailkeeper, who stood by the front of the hallway.

 "I have a thief, fifteen, quite keen on escape, and clever; he's evaded us for a while," Caddock said. He sounded prouder than a cock after winning a fight, but something else was underneath his tone...was it uncertainty?

 The jailkeeper looked me over and grabbed me away from Caddock. At this point I felt more like a sack of potatoes than a human being.

 "He'll lose that spirit soon enough."

 That's what you think! I almost spoke aloud, but held my tongue. I wasn't planning on staying here until it rained pumpkin pies, like everyone seemed to think I would. Oh, no, I'd be leaving much sooner.

 The jailkeeper pulled me to a cell door and fumbled with his key ring. Meanwhile, I could hear Darin congratulating his apprentice.

 “I'll give you some tips when we get back to the guard tower—you’re on next watch—but you ‘andled that very well, Ryker.”

Looking towards the end of the hall that we'd come from, I could see the scruffy-bearded lawguard pat Caddock's back as they walked to the front door of the prison.  

 “Thanks, Mas—Darin,” Caddock said softly. His voice had already lost its earlier proud tone and he now sounded exhausted. “Do you really...was he really lying? About his family? I mean...”

 Darin stopped and looked down at Caddock. “You're a good lad,” he said with tender fondness. “Don't worry. You'll learn.”

 I noticed that Caddock's question had never really been answered, and I’m sure he noticed too. He glanced back at me, and our eyes met. Awkwardly, I turned my attention back to the jailkeeper as the two lawguards vanished, swallowed by sunlight that seeped through the prison door.

 

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