Can love outcome all odds?
The sky is a pale, colorless blanket, stained with clouds of rich crimson, bright against the blank grey. It provides just enough light to see by, and just enough time before dark to grab a meal.
The markets are closing, their vibrant tents folded, puddles sliced apart with rainbow streaks of grease. I see women with long, colorful skirts, carrying their purchases in leather pouches. I brush past them, my fingers flying as I take one of their assets, a brass candlestick, poking rudely out of a fringed bag. I tuck it into my coat. They pass without giving me a second glance.
I find a store, filled with vegetables and fruits. Their skin glows in the dying light.
I casually take a few unguarded apples, then a banana. I melt into the shadows, and slip away.
I find the pawnbroker’s shop, cluttered in an alley beside a few low houses. It’s windows are grimy, but I can still see through them, and the dim light that shines through the filth.
I knock on the door. The sound mingles in the air, joining with the murmur of conversation from the villagers.
Old Tim opens the door, and it creaks uncertainly. He gives me a gap-toothed smile and beckons me inside, shuffling backwards.
I show him the precious candlestick and he frowns thoughtfully. Most pawnbrokers would definitely turn me away, or report me. It is obvious that I stole the precious item, but I am one of Tim’s best customers.
‘Fifty gold.’ He wheezes, shoving the dollars into my hands.
My heart leaps, and I grin. ‘Thanks Tim.’
He shoos me away, his papery hands flapping. ‘Go home, Aurora. You’ve done good business today.’ He adds kindly.
I smile and turn to leave.
‘Be careful. Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be out on the streets at this time.’
I give him a smirk and shut the door.
‘I’m always careful.’ I say aloud to the alley rats, scurrying through the bins and nibbling on rotted food.
‘You’re late.’ Scolds James, swinging open the door.
‘I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome.’ I retort sarcastically.
He rolls his eyes and pulls me inside. ‘Did you get anything?’
‘That’s a stupid question to ask a trained thief. I got fruit, and money. Fifty gold.’
James’s eyes shine. ‘Good work.’ He grins, punching my shoulder.
I smile and place the money on the table.
‘Dinner!’ James hollers.
Five children scramble down the stairs. I can hear their footsteps, thumping over my head.
‘I win!’ Calls Daniel, racing into the room and triumphantly claiming the best seat at the table.
‘Not fair! You pushed me!’ Wails Jackson.
Annie follows quietly behind the bickering boys, clutching her threadbare teddy bear tightly to her chest. Behind her, Ellen nibbles her fingernails, and sits down next to Jackson.
The person I’ve been wanting to see all day enters. Lizzie Anderson, my best friend and practically my sister. I don’t have any siblings, so Lizzie would probably be my closest. I know if I had to die to save one of these people, it would be Lizzie or James.
She smiles and runs to greet me, flinging her arms around my neck.
‘You survived another day. Good job.’
I take a seat at the table, and present the fruit. Daniel’s eyes gleam with greed.
‘Yum! I get the banana!’
‘You got the banana last time!’ Argues Jackson.
‘There’s a thing called sharing.’ Lizzie reminds them gently. ‘Half each. Fair?’
Daniel moans, but Jackson nods decisively. ‘Fair.’ He agrees.
James rolls his eyes. ‘I’m going to get some bread and salad. Stay here.’
Annie nods, curling a strand of her chestnut hair around her finger. She adores James, following him around everywhere. I know James has grown fond of the younger girl too, by the way he gives her secret winks and smiles, and comforts her after a nightmare.
Ellen shuffles closer to me. ‘Can I please have an apple?’ She whispers, her manners impeccable.
‘Sure.’ I pass her the rosy fruit.
She smiles, as if I’ve just given her the greatest gift in the world, and devours the apple in quick, ravenous gulps.
Lizzie sighs. ‘I’ve got some news for you, A.’
‘What news?’ Pipes up Daniel.
‘Private things. They would upset you, poppet.’ She pecks him on the cheek and Daniel smiles. I feel a rush of affection for Lizzie; most of these children don’t have a mother, but she always fills in the role, wiping away tears and plastering infectious smiles on their faces.
Dinner is hurried, and in silence. James looks thunderous and grim, and even the lively Jackson is quiet. I eat quickly, filling my empty stomach. The food disappears in seconds.
‘Aurora, we need to talk.’ James informs me. I nod, and glance at Lizzie, but she just chews her lip distractedly, staring at her food.
‘I’m bored of all this grown up stuff. I’m going to build a fort.’ Jackson smirks. ‘Girls versus boys!’
Ellen instantly looks nervous, and Annie squeezes her bear, shaking her head solemnly.
‘Go on.’ James encourages her. ‘It will be fun.’
Annie gives him a look of terror, but follows Ellen up the stairs to the room they share. Jackson and Daniel yell as they barrel through the door, and clumsily bumble up the steps. ‘Careful!’ Cries Lizzie after them.
‘What is it?’ I ask. The mood seems tense and dark, like a brewing storm cloud, ready to break.
‘You’re wanted.’ James mutters.
‘I’ve been wanted for a very long time-‘
‘Aurora, you’re the most wanted thief in the country.’
Fear explodes in my stomach, making my hands shake. I hide them under the table.
‘What do you mean?’
‘People think you’re rebellious.’
‘Why would I be rebellious? I’m just trying to survive...’
‘That’s not all.’ Lizzie says, her words filled with dread.
‘The Queen has risen to power. She knows you. She’s sending her best agents after you.’
I close my eyes and massage my temples.
‘Why me?’
James stares at me with sadness.
‘That’s the question everyone has been asking for a long time.’
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