The Runner

Kay is an eighteen year-old girl living on the streets of the city. Stealing from the rich and wreaking havoc against the plans of the tyrannical King, she has earned a name for herself as The Runner.
For the last five years, she has used her speed and street smarts to outwit the King's guard and remain under the radar, until a handsome stranger appears and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime.

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9. Chapter 8

While accompanying Lara back to safer streets I am able to convince her to move her things into my attic apartment. I figure she may as well since I won't be using it in a few weeks and that way we won't have to pay two rents. She hugs me once more and turns to go, leaving me to shimmy back up to the roofs, increasing my speed as I leap from ledge to ledge. The hour has grown late and I have already figured Will as being none too patient.

I land on top of his shoddy apartment building and lower myself into the uppermost window, soundlessly swinging my legs inside so that I am sitting comfortably. Will is in the chair with his back turned to me and his head lowered, reading something intently.

"Pretty lax security you have around here." I say, laughing as he jumps in surprise.

"Gods," Will mock-clutches his chest as he turns to face me. "Ever hear of using the door?"

"Not really my style." I cross my legs on the window ledge and tilt my head.

"You may want to consider it as an option in the future. I doubt the Princess will take kindly to one of her ladies swinging from the rafters. "

I roll my eyes at his seriousness. He places whatever he was reading down on the table and rises to his feet, moving towards me. I notice that he still hasn't shaved his beard.

"You're late." He says curtly.

Delightful. I've been here less than a minute and have already heard nothing but lectures.

"Sorry, I ran into a friend." Uncomfortable at his proximity I slide down off the ledge and squeeze around him, helping myself to an apple he's left out in a bowl on the table.

"I need you to take this seriously. I don't think you fully grasp just how different a place Court is from what you're used to."

"Would you relax?" I say through my mouthful of apple. Then swallowing, "I thought you said all I needed was an uptight attitude and good hair."

"As well as manners, tact and decorum."

"I suppose you forgot to mention those. Look, I've been sneaking into Intact houses for a long time, I get the gist of it. Just teach me some fancy phrases and I'll take it from there." I take another bite of the apple.

Will runs a hand over the stubble on his head, his brow furrowed. "You're spewing bits of that everywhere. Didn't your mother teach you to chew with your mouth closed?"

"My mother is dead." I say flatly, making a point of spitting some fruit as I speak.

"Sorry to hear that. I lost my mother as well."

"Right. Great. Is talking about dead mothers considered good courtly conversation?" I ask, keeping my eyes averted as I regard the apple core and polish it off in two bites. When I look back up at Will I notice he has a disgusted look on his face. "What?" I wipe my hands on my tunic.

"We have a lot of work to do."

Several hours later my head is aching. Will has been forcing me to memorize the names of nearly every person currently occupying Court, an endless list of useless people.

"And again, Kay. Who is this?" He holds up a printed card showing a fat old man with bushy sideburns.

I squint in an attempt to clear my blurred vision. "Lord Engers." I say.

"First name?"

"Jorge."

"And his wife?"

"Carilyn. And his children are Anton and Sebastian." I squeeze my eyes shut and massage my throbbing temple.

"And who is this?" He thrusts another card at me.

"Lady Emmy Bock. Husband is the deceased Lord Richard Bock. No children. One lover, Gregory, no title."

"And this-" he reaches for another card but I lean forward and snatch the entire deck from his hands.

"Stephen Griss, father is Thom Griss, captain of the King's guard. This is Lydia Simons, bit of a hussy. Lady Penelope Haydon, cousin to the Princess. Richie Thaylor. Oren Humber, his brother Louis, and here we have Sam, Kerry, Tomas, Byron, Francis..." I start flicking the cards at Will and he raises his hands to protect himself. "Janit, Peter, Ira, Charles, Lawrence, Rachel, Edith, Sara." I run out of cards and lean back on the couch, satisfied at the sight of him looking around at his scattered study materials, a dismayed look on his face.

He sighs and stoops to collect the cards, "That was not very ladylike."

"Forgive me. I never had the benefit of a formal education."

"I get that you're frustrated, Kay, but you need to trust me on this. People at Court are gossipy social climbers and you'll be expected to keep up with who’s who." He collects the last of the cards and shuffles them carefully back into place.

I don't say anything, returning to rubbing my temples.

"I think we're ready for a break, don’t you?” He places the deck on the table and stands up. “Are you hungry?"

"Yes, always." I say.

"Why am I not surprised?" He disappears into the kitchen and returns a few moments later carrying two plates of what looks like mutton. I reach up my hands to take the dish but he shakes his head and motions for me to follow him.

"Not here, we'll go to the dining hall." He places the plates on the window ledge and pulls a couple chairs over so that they face outside. "I think that this feast calls for a formal setting, don't you?"

"I couldn't agree more." I say, taking a seat and picking up the knife and fork. Will lowers himself to sit next to me, his broad shoulder brushing mine in the cramped space.

He picks up his own silverware and begins to cut into the meat. "Unfortunately, this is the closest thing I have to a high top table in here. It's a bit tight but you can't beat the view." As he chews he stares out the window at the wide street, coloured bright orange in the late sun. I tear my eyes away from him and concentrate on my own meal.

"No, no. Not like that.” He sighs and reaches for my knife, covering my hand with his and readjusting my fingers so that they are resting against the side of the blade. "Like this. You're not stabbing it, you're eating it."

I am left holding the knife awkwardly as he releases me, rotating myself over the plate as I attempt to slice the meat the way he showed me. I cut a piece and raise it to my mouth.

"Stop. Look at what you have there."

I pause and regard the food on my fork. "It looks pretty tasty to me."

"That is much too big a piece. Remember, a lady takes small bites and chews delicately."

I sigh as I return the food to my plate and slice it in half, biting my tongue while I concentrate on the strange way I have to hold the knife. I brandish the newly-cut morsel at him before placing it in my mouth and chewing as slowly and carefully as I can manage. Gods, it tastes delicious.

Will nods and returns to his meal. We eat in silence as I focus on holding my silverware without struggling, careful to take small bites and chew with my mouth closed. It has never taken me so long to finish a meal, and I begin to wonder if Intacts realize how inefficient this method of eating is.

Will chuckles softly and I turn to face him.

"What?" I say, careful to swallow first.

"It's nothing. You look funny when you're concentrating."

"Isn't it considered a tad gauche for a gentleman to stare at a lady while she eats?" I make a show of dabbing my mouth with a cloth.

"You're absolutely right. My apologies, madam, I couldn't help myself. I suppose I haven't had such entertaining dinner company in a long time."

"I am so pleased that you find my struggles amusing." I say lightly, clearing the last bite from my plate.

He stands to collect our dishes. "Place your fork and knife in the centre of the plate so that the help knows to collect it from you."

I do as he says. "'The help', is it? Don't you mean 'the Fragments'?"

"That reminds me. You're going to have to be careful to keep a distance from Fragments. Intacts, especially royal ones, don't fraternize with anyone they deem socially unacceptable. It's a terrible attitude but one you're going to have to adopt if you are going to fit in." He disappears into the kitchen with our plates and I am left staring out the window at the figures passing below while the street lamps throw long shadows across the front of the buildings.

"You did well today." I turn at the sound of his voice to see him leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed across his broad chest. "I mean it. I didn't expect you to be such a quick study."

"Why is that?" I don't bother trying to hide the offence in my voice. "Because I haven't been to one of your fancy schools?"

He blinks at me, appearing hurt. "That's not what I meant."

"It's fine. Don’t worry about it." I stand and place our chairs back against the wall. When I turn he is still reclined in the doorway, regarding me.

"Same time tomorrow?" I say, sitting on the ledge and swinging one leg out the window.

"You know, we’re on the same side now. You don’t have to keep thinking of me as some spoiled Intact."

I pause. My instinct is to come back at him with a biting remark, but none come to mind.

"I'm sorry." I say instead.

Will raises his eyebrows, "Excuse me?"

"You're right. We're on the same side and, apart from throwing me off a wall, you've been nothing but a completely decent person. So, I'm sorry. I'll try to keep the poor-little-rich-guy jabs to myself from now on."

"Well... thanks." He looks completely baffled but the corner of his mouth is tugging upwards slightly. "You continue to surprise me, Kay. And for what it's worth, you've been completely decent as well."

I roll my eyes but can't help grinning as well. "Oh please, I'm blushing already."

Will chuckles and I feel the pressure from earlier finally dissipating. His laugh is a rich, throaty sound and I feel warm despite the cool night breeze on my back.

He walks towards me and for a moment I feel the flight instinct fluttering in my chest but I force myself to stay in place as he leans his tall frame out the window and looks down towards the street.

"What is it?" I ask.

"I just can't figure how you climb down there."

"Oh. It isn't that difficult. It just takes a little practice."

"Could you show me?" His grey eyes appear dark in the waning light.

"What, you want to watch?"

"No, I mean, could you teach me?"

A smile breaks out over my face, "You're not afraid of heights, are you?"

"No, only falling from them." He wrinkles his nose at his own cheesy joke.

"Sure. I'll show you sometime." I swing my other leg out the window and turn so that my feet are perched on a protruding brick and my forearms are supported on the ledge next to Will's. I can't help but notice how thin and light my arms look compared to his.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Kay." I look up and find myself face-to-face with him. "How about an early start?"

"Goodnight, Will." I say. I raise my eyebrows in mock horror then hop backwards, dropping out of sight.

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