Morgan, Street Urchin

Hayle

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Morgan eyed the bread vendor’s stall with a deep seated hunger. The last time he had eaten was two days ago, when he had managed to snatch an entire wheel of cheese from the back of a lord’s cart. He had been chased down by guards for what seemed like half the city’s backroads. In reality, though, he had already evaded them after only a few narrow turns and paths that he was certain were secrets to anyone but him.

He had fed his younger sister and brother most of the food, yesterday he had given them all of the smoked meat he had scraped together. Tiel had a bad cough recently, he needed medicine that they could not begin to afford. This only made his situation more desperate. Most grocers knew his face, and since he had managed to reach twelve years of age it seemed as though the guards were far less forgiving of his activities.

Today though, there was an army of some nobleman walking through the town. They would provide plenty of distraction for him as they paraded their wealth down the roads of the compact town. The bread vendor hadn’t seen him in the crowd. It was the owner’s son attending the stall today. Morgan’s experience with theft told him that now was one of the better opportunities to get himself some food.
 

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Morgan started to move across the road but paused, the timing wasn’t right. People were walking across his path, he knew just the moment he would get across causing the least disturbance. It came, and he darted through the pedestrians legs, barely causing so much as a ruffled skirt.


On the other side of the road now, a whiff of that freshly baked bread wafted past his nose. His eyes nearly watered with hunger. The stall was perfectly positioned alongside him next to another building. There was a single alleyway splitting the wall of masonry between him and the short and narrow wooden structure. He had always found the browned breads to be the better ones. The less ‘fancy’ they were, he had noticed, the further they would go to filling your stomach.


He started to move his way toward the vendor. Trying to look as nonchalant as he could, he walked right on over toward the stall. It seemed to be going well, the vendor’s son hadn’t noticed him at all so far. He kept moving at a normal pace, keeping the food in the corner of his eye, releasing a stone from his hand and thrusting it toward the wall behind the stall right before he passed in front. The instant the man tending the bread looked away to see what the clacking noise was his hand darted up and grabbed a small loaf.


He didn’t have time to stand around now, he ducked down below the front of the stall and rushed away before he could be spotted.
 

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“This is going quite well” he thought to himself while straightening up. He had already hidden the small morsel of food in his somewhat decayed jacket and was making a decent pace away. He had gotten about eight metres before a hand clasped down on his shoulder.


“Did you pay for that young man?” came a hollow voice from behind him.


He didn’t turn around, he tried to bolt away, but the hand clamped down harder, and his feet left the ground, only leaving him falling to his back. Before he knew it, he was looking up into brown eyes, stubble, and short black hair surrounding a withered and scarred face.
 

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The wraith of a man planted his dirty foot onto Morgan’s chest and leaned in, crushing the bread. It barely provided any sanctuary from the crushing pressure as it crumbled.

He leaned in closer and whispered in a low gnarled voice, now inches from his face. “Looks like I’ve caught myself a little thief”

Morgan squirmed, trying to wriggle out from under the weight, but couldn’t manage to quite get away. The man’s breath was awful, like he’d something had crawled into his throat and died there. He didn’t dare call out for help though. The man had caught him stealing. If only he could just get away from him.

“What do you say you come work for me, boy?” the man grinned and there was awful smell coming from his breath.

Morgan grunted under the new weight of his assailant. “What?” he gasped “what do you want with me?”

“Don’t you want a place for yourself? A place you can call home, with a family?” the words coming out had the potential to inspire hope were they not dripping like venom from this man’s mouth.

“If you work for me you’ll have food every day. You’ll even make a little coin, a copper every week for your service.” the man took his foot off of his chest and pulled him back to his feet, firmly holding onto his jacket.

Morgan bolted, he tore out of his jacket and was into the crowd of passers by before the man could react.

“Thief! Thief!” he could hear him shouting from behind him, but he just kept moving. He walked more slowly now, just trying to blend in and get to a safe alley.

He knew this area well and soon managed to get back on the path to his brother and sister’s hiding place. Breathing heavily, he took a moment to put his hand on the wall next to him for support while he caught his breath. That’s when he heard footsteps coming from the other end of the narrow passage between the buildings. There were two pairs of footsteps, and the clinking and clanging of metal let him know they were armed and armoured, city guards. Normally they enjoyed messing with the street children, it seemed to amuse them. Morgan didn’t want to be their plaything today.

There was a drainage pipe on the side of the building next to him, he grabbed hold and began climbing. The footsteps were nearly around the corner, before he could reach the top they rounded it. He spared a glance at them and noticed that there was a third man with them, the man from before, somehow he had gotten in front of him.

“How on earth did he manage that?!” he thought.

As his fingers curled over the flat rooftop surface, he heard them shouting at him. Hauling himself over the edge, he knew there was something wrong with that man, he would have to keep running even now on the rooftops. Usually adults couldn’t get up here, certainly the heavy guards would not be able to get their weight up to the roof on the drainage pipe. They would have to find another building with stairs leading to the rooftop and make their way to him. The strange man, though, something was wrong about him.

Fear welled up in him, he had to get back to his siblings. He heard the sound of someone gripping and climbing the pipe. No, he knew it was that man that was climbing. He ran.
 

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He could picture that face in his mind, terror raced through him as fast as his feet dug into the tiles of the rooftops.

“Dammit what does he want with me?!”

He took the time to take a split second glance behind him. Unfortunately the spare look cost him a couple of feet and he was already losing ground. The man was older, taller, he thought he would be able to use his mastery of the city to outrun him. It felt as though he needed to take three desperate steps for every easy stride his pursuer took.

He took a gamble and jumped down into the streets, landing on the cloth overhang of a market stall. The lean poles used for holding up the fabric snapped violently and sent him tumbling to the ground. When he looked up, his body battered, he saw the man casually walking up to him. “How did he get down?” was the last thing he thought before his eyelids asserted their dominance over his sight.
 

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When he woke up there was a significant amount of pain all over. He was sore, cuts and bruises vied for his attention, but the most significant thing on his mind right now was the thought of what was to come. There was a light in the room, just a small gas lamp sitting on an old table. What little the light illuminated was an old stonework wall, there were gouges out of it in places and no part of it was smooth. A door was adjacent to the table, only half of it could be seen in the weak light emenating from the glass lamp. It looked as though it was nearly out of oil and the wick was very surely at the end of its usefulness.


He got up, or at least tried to, and found first that his hands were bound behind his back. He was sitting in a chair, feet and hands both tied. He didn’t say anything, there was no gag, but he knew better than to draw the attention of whoever may be on the other side of the door. He carefully flexed his arms and legs, it seemed the chair was the most sturdy thing in the room. Not a single creak came of his futile attempts to escape, but there was some shuffling as he got frustrated.


He realized he was sweating profusely, he realized he was breathing heavily, and his shirt was soaked with the perspiration. Then he heard voices from the other side of the door.


“Sounds like he’s awake sir” it wasn't the voice of the strange man, it sounded like another child, maybe a couple of years older.
 

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The door creaked open and let a bit more light into the room.

A familiarly shaped man stepped into the room, the man who had chased him through the streets.

“Hello.” he said, his voice was dry and soft.

“What, why, what-” Morgan stammered out before he held a hand up.

“My name is Rees, I save young men from a life of poverty by bringing them into this home.”

“What makes you think I want your help?” he retorted.

Rees reaches into the small bag at his side and pulls out his fist while taking a couple of steps forward to stand in front of Morgan. He holds it in front of Morgan’s face for a couple of seconds, looking into his eyes before opening his hand. Crumbs fall onto his lap.

“Crumbs, lad, you go through that every day don’t you. He pulls a small piece of bread from the same bag and shoves it into Morgan’s mouth.

“You won’t have to worry again if the guards catch you, the merchants will no longer see you asa threat. I will feed you, all I ask is that you go to the streets and tell me what you see.”

The bread falls from his mouth after he takes the bite, and after furiously chewing he tries to speak through hiccoughs.

“Sir, my.. Brother and sister-”

The man, having been called sir, knows now that he has already won, and leaves the room.

“We can talk tomorrow, boy, get this young man some proper food and water, untie him, and show him to his room.”

He stands still in the doorway for a moment before looking back at him.

“Your brother and sister, I’ll have to get them working as well. After all, I can’t have people here for free now can I?”

Three years pass

Morgan sits in the street, a silver piece clinking into the pan in his lap. His lips are cracked from the sun, and his complexion is tanned. Fifteen years old now, he looked down at the rare treasure. The guard across the street, William was his name, got a little more tense, seeing what had been dropped into his collection. He motioned for him to go and take what he had gotten so far back to the boy’s home.

He quickly poured the pan into a piece of cloth, tied the bag and pan to either side of his hips, and slinked back into the darkness.

Several minutes later he had the pouch on the table, opened it up, and revealed the riches of iron bits, copper pieces, and a single piece of silver. Rees was quick to snatch up the silver piece. He brought it close to his eye, smelled it, licked it, and set it down next to the rest.

“Good work out there boy, tell me, did you happen to get a look at the man who handed this to you?” Rees asked. It was a sort of tradition, Morgan knew if he hadn’t memorized their face, he would have been punished, so of course he recalled what they looked like.

“Actually sir, it was a woman, she looked about twenty, she looked very strong. Her hair was brown, her eyes were green.” He continued to rattle off little details about her face and build before Rees held up a hand.

“I think I know who you’re talking about.” he looked wistfully down at the pile of petty metal coins and bits. “You know, you’ve done me a good service today, and it’s sunday.” He dropped a copper coin in front of the teenager, then he scooped up a few iron bits and put them down in front of him as well. “Now don’t you go expecting this every day.”

Morgan was hesitant to take more than the copper coin, but Rees was sometimes soft, and his face indicated he was being sincere. He hated the man after he had lied about saving his brother. They had never gotten him any kind of medicine and he’d died shortly after being brought here. Rees told him it was because the medicine was too expensive, but Morgan knew that he had the connections to get it for nothing.

He had to keep up the charade though, after all, they had his sister, and they were feeding them.

“Thank you very much sir!” he started to scoop up the iron bits in addition to the copper coin but his arm was grabbed before he could finish.

“Don’t you go spending it all in one place.” he said simply, before letting go.

Morgan just took the rest of the bounty and scurried away. Twelve iron bits was worth a copper on its own at least. This was more than double what he was normally paid.
 

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Morgan skittered out the front door of the boy’s home and onto the cobbled street out front. The sun was out today, and though clouds were dotting the sky it was still bright out. A light breeze flowed through the wider streets that were out front of the boy’s home. This street was home to several businesses and storefronts that could be said to be less than trustworthy. Still, for most it was just another street full of marketeers and traders.


It was almost suspicious how clean this road was. It wasn’t only clean in the way one would expect when referring to a drug addicted man who had managed to hop on the wagon. Even the cobbles were swept, though common in larger cities, the space between the stones on the road was even grouted. Most roads through the city were merely flat rocks with dirt and mud supporting them. Rees and the other slave masters had made damned sure that their nest looked as un-nest-like as possible.


Today, Morgan wanted to find some chocolate to bring to his sister. He happened to know of a certain vendor that would sell him a nice sized chunk wrapped in cloth for only six bits. The man was elderly, with greying hair and a bald spot on the top of his head. Where he let his hair grow it reached down to his shoulders, and he had a beard that reached far enough to cover his neck. He was usually hanging about at his stall on the weekdays, and sometimes he would come out on saturdays. Morgan had noticed that he was coming out less and less on the saturdays.
 
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