The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 11

Northmarket District-Oldtown

Unlike most goblin-kind who were vicious, cunning, and utterly without compunction, eleven-year-old Klzyx was a peaceable being with simple wants. His only goal was to feel comfortable and safe. He only felt comfortable and safe when he had more than enough coins to put a roof over his and his sister’s heads and food in their bellies. Not for him was the debt to the neighborhood moneylender! He was a coins on the barrel head sort of being.

As a result, Klzyx lived his life ruled by the heft of coins in his money pouch. He either had a bounty (reveled in the voluptuous feelings of safety and security), a little (faint fevered blossomings of anxiety) or none (panting with overwhelming panic). Thus, he was a frugal little being. Unfortunately, Roze - his sister - was not. Even old Mag, who had loved her dearly, had called her an excessively greedy goblin. In his constant endeavor to keep her happy, safe, and most importantly, quietly satisfied—his life moved in stages, from safely law-abiding to risky criminal depending on his wallet and her whims.

On this day, with his money pouch nearly empty and Roze’s birth celebration looming, Klzyx hunted in Northmarket. He was a master snatcher trained by old Mr. Whiskers himself. He’d been following a human, an aged itinerant wood crafter with a nice fat purse hanging from his belt.

When the gaggle of merchants and shoppers stopped to listen to a furious argument between two Black-Stone dwarfs, he slid in front of a half-blood mountain troll at a precisely calculated moment. As expected, the big troll muttered a curse and shoved him out of its way into the old wood crafter. Klzyx instantly palmed his stubby pocket dagger to slash the leathers holding the man’s coin pouch.

—And found his hand caught in an iron grip.

Klzyx yipped in pain. He looked up and found amused green eyes looking back at him. Eyes that were not elderly at all—but bad news—very bad news.

Despairing, knowing his effort was probably doomed to fail, his other hand went for the stabbing dagger at his hip, only to find the scabbard empty.

“Well, met Master Snatcher,” the man finger signed him in thieves cant, “I mean you no harm.” The man offered his dagger back to him hilt first, seemingly unconcerned that he might get stabbed as soon as it left his hand.

The man smiled and whistle-clicked softly in low alfar, the lingua franca of the marketplace. “I need a few moments of your time, good sir. Some call me Longshanks. Might I know your name?”

Klzyx’s eyes grew wide. His mouth opened, but no words came. He licked his lips and finally croaked out. “Yes, Master. I am named Klzyx. I do not know my clan’s name or the name of my matriarch,” he said apologetically. The sharing of name and clan was an important social ritual in goblin interaction. Status was all. Klzyx’s shame was that he had no clan to greet and impress with. There was just him and his sister. The clan was all to goblin-kind—clanless goblin-kind were considered derelict—useless.

“Well met, young Klzyx. Let us sit for a spell over at the Ravens Pub. Unless my nose has led me astray, today is beef stew day.”

“Uh, Master,” Klzyx said apologetically, “it is worth my life to go in there. They doesn’t serve my kind there. The troll at the door will cripple me for even trying to enter.”

“Huh. Well, let us give it a try anyway unless you don’t like the beef stew?”

The young being’s eyes grew round. “No, master,” he said earnestly, “I had some once a long time ago; I remember it was wonderful.”

“Perfect, my friend. Now why don’t you signal your spotter to join us? I’d wager she would like a taste of stew as well.”

Klzyx gave the tall man a shocked look. How did the big being know about his spotter? Then he nodded resignedly and signaled, “Come here” to his partner, an apprentice named Clover.

In answer to his signal, she popped out of the shadows and skipped across the busy lane. She was a cheerfully blithe little being, just turned eight seasons. Mr. Whiskers had assigned her training to Klzyx a couple of weeks ago. While she was still clumsy at the snatch, she proved to be a reliable spotter/distracter. With guild security enforcers increasingly patrolling Northmarket, a good spotter was critical to avoiding the punishment for theft: slavery or death.

“She’s new, isn’t she?”

“Yes, master,” he said apologetically. “Her name is Clover. She don’t know hardly anything at all, Master Longshanks. Sometimes she backtalks and she asks questions, lots and lots of them. Please don’t hurt her.”

“No worries, young Master. I was new once and a spotter as well.”

Quinn carefully assessed the environment as he and his new friend waited for the little dirty-faced, bare-footed dryad. He noted she was dressed like the other street urchins, in a raggedy gray tunic and leather trousers. She arrived at the goblin’s side, stood well away from his reach and stared round-eyed up at him.

“Well met, Mistress Clover, Master Klzyx and I are going to break bread. Would you like to join us?”

The little being whose bright green hair showed she was an elf/dryad mix turned her violet eyes to the goblin and quirked a questioning eyebrow. She whispered, “Who is this being, sir? What does it want?”

“He is going to buy us a feast. I do not know what he wants. Be silent and behave. Do not anger the being. There is a chance of food in this place for us. Food, the likes of which is far out of the reach of beings like you and me. After we eat, we will see if we need to run.”

Quinn quirked a smile at the earnest interchange. Oldtown was awash with orphaned children. If they were lucky, they self-organized into gangs because predators of all stripes abounded. If not, they were almost always enslaved. He well remembered his time on the streets. Life soon turned them feral, but they cared for each other.

“Let us go feast.” He kept a firm grip on the little goblin’s hood, and the three walked over to the pub’s entrance.

After some initial bluster, the troll guarding the door looked at the sudden coldness in Quinn’s eyes and quickly admitted the three.

The tavern was typical of its kind, smoky and dark, with low ceilings and ancient worn wooden floors covered with sawdust. Quinn chose a table in the far corner near the kitchen (and the rear exit). He grabbed some chairs. Katie and Niamh should be joining them soon.

While two little thieves whispered. Quinn let his mind wander back.

After the fire, a lady brought him to live with a new family. The house smelled bad, but five-year-old Lachlan Quinn was too numb to care. He could still smell smoke on him from the fire that had burned up his mommy and daddy.

“This is your new home,” the lady said. When Lachlan didn’t reply, she went on. “ You will like it here, I’m sure. There are lots of children to play with. You’ll have fun.”

She reached down and gave him a pat on the head.

She was thin and smelled of cigarettes. Lachlan didn’t like her one bit, but he was quiet about it.

The lady of the house was very fat with small mean-looking eyes that sat sunk into her white powdered face. She smelled of cigarettes and a sharp perfume that burned his nose. Lachlan decided he didn’t like her either, but he didn’t say so because she was scary.

“You can call me Mommy. All my little darlings do.”

She turned her attention to the lady who had brought him and led her to the door. “Thanks, Margaret, we’ll be just fine here. He seems like a nice little boy. Be sure and update your records to show we have one more hungry mouth.”

She shut the door and turned to Lachlan. Her mouth slitted and her eyes grew cold. She slapped him. “That was for your own good, boy. There are rules here. Follow them, and we will get along. Break them, and there will be punishments far worse than that slap. Stop your sniveling and come along. I’ll show you your room.”

Three months passed. Lachlan had settled into his new place. He had a new friend named Annie, who was six. She had come to his room the first night and asked to sleep in his room because she was scared and she would be his new friend. Lachlan agreed. He was scared too.

Annie had rules that she taught him. “We take care of each other.” She pulled the blanket and the pillows off the bed and made a cozy nest for the two of them in the closet. “Never sleep in the bed cuz sometimes the daddy comes home drunk and will climb in with you. Drunk big people do bad things. Always save a little food cuz the mommy sometimes forgets to make supper. If you steal from the refrigerator, make sure it’s just a little bit that won’t get missed. And always, always be quiet. Never make a sound. If you are loud, you’ll get a whippin’, especially when the Mommy has one of her sick days. Always sleep fully dressed in case we have to run outside if the Daddy goes crazy...”

Three months later, the mommy hadn’t cooked for two days. Lachlan stole two pieces of pizza from the refrigerator for him and Annie. He’d done it before and nothing had happened. So he went and did it again.

This time, the daddy must have been hungry. Lachlan hid in the closet when he heard him stomping down the hall. The daddy came into the room. Next, there was lots of yelling and Annie cried. Then a slap sounded. Then silence. After a while, he crept out of the closet and saw the daddy sleeping face down on the bed. Annie lay on the floor with her eyes wide open and a strange twist to her neck.

He sat by Annie for a long time, holding her hand and stroking her hair, hoping she’d wake up. He wanted to tell her he was sorry he didn’t take care of her. “We take care of each other.”

But she never did wake up. He finally figured that she died like his mommy and daddy.

The sleeping drunk gave a sudden snore.

“Run”--His mind shrieked—”Run now.”

A timeless while later, he found himself stumble-running down the dark streets of the Fremont district. He kept looked behind to make sure the man wasn’t coming up behind him. After a while, his initial panicked flight had settled into a half run, half walk. The north/south streets of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood are steep, so he headed south—downhill simply because it was easier than going up. Young Lachlan had no idea where he was going—just away from the daddy who had hurt Annie. He supposed she was in heaven now, maybe with his mama and papa. He hoped so, anyway. Sometimes he wished he was too—only sometimes, because lately he couldn’t remember what his mama looked like. He supposed that there were lots of people in heaven—what if he couldn’t recognize them?

Young Lachlan was numb; all cried out. The dark rainy streets were much less scary than the big man who had hit Annie so hard he couldn’t wake her up.

Now, for the first time, layered on top of the terror came guilt and shame; it was all his fault; he shouldn’t have stole the pizza. And he should have said it was him who had done it. But he hadn’t— too scared. He knew deep in his bones that bad things had happened to Annie because he gave into his scaredness. “Never ever again,” he promised himself. “Someday, I’ll never be a-scared again.”

Lachlan shivered, he was glad that he’d thought to put on his shoes and grab his backpack, but he wished he had found his coat. He was hungry, but he was used to being hungry. He was so tired, but he knew he couldn’t stop. The big people would catch him and make him go back to the monster’s house, and the man would be really mad this time. Lachlan was determined never to go back.

It was dark where he was walking, but there were lights up ahead. He dimly remembered the book place with the nice lady who read stories to kids, and maybe she would be there and give him a place to get warm.

Cars were whizzing by splashing water. The rain started again. He put his head down, clutched Mr. Teddy, his stuffed brown bear, and walked on.

He came out of the dark and onto the brightly lit sidewalks of 36th Street. All the stores closed for the night. but there was a bench over by the statue of a stern-looking man with a red hand, so he figured it would be safe enough to sit and rest a little while.

As young Lachlan walked to the bench, a curious dizziness hit him. He stumbled and the next thing he knew; he was in a place where the sun shone hot and bright. Shocked, he stood openmouthed, blinking in the bright sunlight. He wrinkled his nose—acrid smoke stung his eyes and smelled of poop and pee. But that wasn’t the biggest difference. The street rang with the shouts of hundreds of odd-looking people, large and small, right out of one of the library lady’s story books. Short stocky dwarves, tall slender people that looked like elves, even some short round people that looked like Mr. Teddy. They were all mixed in with regular looking people, all arguing and shouting in a language he didn’t understand: a mixture of singing, sharp clicks and whistles and lots of hand gestures.

As he stood gawking, a hand grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him off the street and into a dark alcove. He dropped Mr. Teddy and when he tried to go back and rescue him; the hand held him fast. Another hand covered his mouth. A voice whispered, “Shhhhhhhhhh.”

A pair of huge monster men with out-thrust jaws that held two large tusks were walking along, looking for something.

The hand holding him trembled when their eyes swept over their hiding place. A voice whispered a soft shhhhhh in his ear again.

When the two monsters passed, his heart dropped when he realized Mr. Teddy was gone—the last link to his mama was gone.

An ugly-looking kid with an enormous nose and pointed ears released his neck. Two girls came out of the shadows and joined him. The three walked away, heading deeper into the alley. One of the girls turned and smilingly beckoned Lachlan to join them. He followed the beings that he later found out were thieves. And that was how young Lachlan Quinn, late of planet Earth, became a thief.

When this story gets more text, you will need to Log In to read it