(( My prompt word this week was ‘poor’. I decided to write a story for a girl who starts out in the books living in the slums of Kingsfall. ))
Ruby Brightblaze, as she was known in this area of Kingsfall, walked past the makeshift shelters. Most had been built with a combination of wood and piled rocks. Some of the fancier ones had doors, but most of them had a ratty old cloth covering the doorway. She and her father were lucky to live in one of the bigger ones, but even it had just an old blanket over the doorway.
Ugh, creep. Don’t look.
Most of them had learned not to bother her by now, but this one persisted.
“Ruby! Did you think about it yet?”
Sorry creep. Temporary loss of hearing. Keep walking, Ruby.
She spun around as he grabbed her arm and lifted her knee to his crotch. He let go, and before he could even utter his next words, she was running.
“Bitch! I won’t even ask next time!”
He said more, but as he was still clutching his sore gonads, and she was still running, she didn’t hear it.
Her father had taught her to survive here. He’d had problems with some of the creeps as well, thanks to some of the work he used to do while he still lived with his mother, a prostitute. She suspected her mother was too, but he never spoke about her. He would only say she was gone. She’d given up on getting him to talk about her long ago.
She slowed down as she reached a wall. Kingsfall was one of the few cities in Naren with an actual sewer system. The infrastructure for it had been finished over ten years ago, thanks to the dwarves for sharing their inventions. She supposed it wouldn’t be too pleasant smelling if everyone pooped in the same cave.
She neared a circular hole in the wall. It had been covered with a grate, but the people of the slums were a resourceful lot. They had managed to loosen it enough that it could be pushed aside, while still appearing to cover the opening.
She held her breath as she stepped up inside the tunnel. Of course they’d leave the sewage to drain right into the slums. At least she didn’t live too close to one of the drains.
As she moved further in, it got darker. She tried to breathe without smelling it as she felt along the wall. She knew the way, and wasn’t worried about getting lost. She was worried about stepping in something gross. She really needed to find a better pair of shoes. These leaked when they got wet, and her father complained if they smelled. Luckily, the sewage was just a small trickle tonight as it hadn’t rained lately.
She took the first turn and walked along. Light from grates above trickled in, allowing her to see a little more in this section. She came upon the first ladder and climbed up, pushing the metal grate that covered it aside.
It was one of the easier ways to get in the other parts of the city now. It used to be you could walk in and out of the slums at will, but in the past few years, guards had been posted around the slums. Many of them asked for proof of being a registered citizen of the city. Since she was never officially named, she couldn’t provide proof. Nor could her father take her to be officially named. He could not provide proof of his either, and Kingsfall had hefty fines for anyone not registered as an adult.
She replaced the grate and walked along the street, now in the proper city where people had real walls, real doors, real homes and real names. It was true that most of the people in the Kingsfall slums were nameless. Even the ones who could prove they were registered with the city had difficulty leaving. Her father had stolen a priest’s outfit from the local temple and used it a few times as a creative way of leaving. The guards didn’t bother the charity workers who tried to help the nameless. The sewer worked well enough for her.
She turned down an alley, and scampered up the side of one of the buildings, using the uneven corner bricks as footholds. Once she was up, she went across to the other side and waited.
Five minutes later, something brushed her arm. She knew it was him.
“Did you have trouble getting here?”
She whispered back, “No father, I took the sewers.”
“Good. Are you ready?”
“I’ll lower you down. Be fast. They’re usually back from the temple in about fifteen minutes.”
Ruby nodded. Tomorrow would be an early morning as they rushed to sell the items before they were reported missing. That’s if there was anything worth stealing. Sometimes this part of town paid off, sometimes not. Stealing from the market stalls was much more exciting and efficient in her opinion, but she couldn’t really argue with her father. Once his amber eyes lit up with a new plan to make a few silver, there was little that could stop him. According to him, the sellers at the market were starting to catch on anyway. She didn’t know how he knew that. They had never been caught.
She held his wrists as he lowered her over the side of the building to an open window on the top floor. She let go as she got her foothold on the side of the window frame and gently made the rest of her way down to the window sill.
They had been watching this place for a while, and this window was always open in the summer. The building was too smooth on this side to reach it from the bottom, but lowering from the top gave her the footholds she needed to climb down. The couple who lived here went to the temple every week at the same time, but her father was right. They would be home soon.
She climbed inside, allowing her eyes to adjust for a moment before opening dresser drawers. Always check under the mattress. There was nothing there. She did find some jewelry left out on one of the nightstands. She slipped it in her bag before leaving the room.
The bathroom was the next room to check. Sometimes more jewelry was left there. She didn’t find any necklaces, but she did find some fancy hair clips. Those also went into her bag. She hurried down the stairs and found a fancy dining area. There was a tray, possibly made of silver. It was too big for her bag, and normally that would stop her, but she took the table cloth and wrapped it around it. She put some candle holders in her bag, and managed to find the silver too. Anything that looked remotely valuable went into her bag. She checked the sitting room and found a desk, but nothing important was in the drawers. She did find a nice pen though. Was it gold? She’d let her father sort that out when she got home.
The bell at the temple range once, signaling that they were closing their doors for the night. She hurried to the front door and unlocked it to let herself out.
She walked naturally down the street, trying to hold the platter covered with a table cloth like she was meant to be holding it.
She ducked into an alley near the grate to the sewer as there were some people passing. After she was sure the coast was clear, she pushed the grate aside and climbed back down the ladder.
She hurried back to the shack she shared with her father. She knew he would already be waiting there for her.