Chapter 2 (A Red Dagger)
A dry, desert breeze ruffled Joby’s tattered clothes, and gave him fresh appreciation for the ability to get water whenever he wanted. As a street rat, it was easier for him at night than it was for most of the city during the day. There was very little competition at night.
Joby and Scratch took a winding path toward the city square of Terron, checking on all of their most fruitful digs. Joby found a small loaf of bread that had fallen from a window earlier that night and shared it with his friend. They shared almost everything.
The homes grew larger and more ornate in their designs the deeper in Joby and Scratch walked. While on Joby’s street, most homes were fortunate enough to have a completed thatch roof, those toward the middle of the city were whitewashed, just for looks. Large, slate tiles replaced thatch and canvas eaves and awnings gave way to colored fabrics. The closer they drew to the main source of Terron’s water, the closer they came to Terron’s wealth.
“Look at that, Scratch,” Joby said, pointing out a house with a few candles still lit. “They got blue stretched above their windows. King-man can’t like that, can he? Blue’s a Livus color.” Joby shook his head as if he knew exactly what trouble this subtle difference would bring. “Livus, you know, ain’t like Aruna. Those sticks in the mud don’t even work for their bread. They just take it from us, like they own it all.”
Scratch trotted beside his master, keeping a watchful eye on the shadows and his nose in the air. Occasionally he looked up at Joby, as if to suggest he really was listening.
“If you don’t work for it, don’t take it,” Joby said proudly. Realizing a fundamental weakness in his assessment, Joby wiggled his head as he worked out a justification. “Even we gotta be smart and do our diggin’ if we wanna eat. Livus just takes it.” While they passed the house with the blue awnings over all of its windows, Joby talked on. “I wonder why the ole’ king-man takes it, Scratch.” Looking down at his dog, he thought maybe he knew the answer. “I guess there’s always a bigger dog, right?”
Scratch perked his ears, looked back at Joby and gave a slight whimper.
“No, not really, boy,” Joby said, “just a fig of speech.” Reaching down he brushed his dog’s back with his hand to give reassurance. “I got a Switch for that. You ain’t never gonna be ganged up on again.”
Scratch seemed content with the explanation and went back to sniffing the air thoughtfully.
Together they cut between two of the largest homes in Terron, carefully navigating the olive grove that separated them. Joby and Scratch ignored the low-hanging fruit. The nets for harvest had already been stretched under all the branches, looking like massive spider webs in the moonlight.
When they made it through the grove, the city square of Terron opened up before them. Paved with smoothly cut, light gray stone, it caught the light of the sky above and glowed like a copy of the moon pulled down to the ground. At the center was a well large enough for a horse to fall into. A heavy wood frame with a pulley system dangled over top of it like a menacing hand waiting to snatch anything that came too close.
Scattered around the edge of the square were several more wells, all of which were a far more approachable size. Joby headed for one of these.
“Be right back,” he said over his shoulder.
Scratch stayed just inside the olive grove as a matter of routine.
Stepping out onto the smooth gray stone, Joby walked boldly to his well of choice. As he had hoped, a pitcher was still sitting at the base and the draw bucket next to it.
“It’s like someone knows we’re comin’,” Joby whispered to himself with a smile. “But they ain’t never gonna catch me.”
Joby patiently scanned the houses around the square. Only a few lanterns were still lit in distant windows, but none were casting their rays far enough to reach where he stood.
When he was satisfied that no one would easily see him work, Joby eased the draw bucket into the well a foot at a time until he felt the rope go limp. Like a fisherman checking his traps, he jerked the rope a few times until he was satisfied with the resistance from the other end.
With his waist pressed against the lip of the well, Joby leaned over a bit and started hauling. With practiced precision, he pulled the rope so as to avoid the possible noise of the bucket knocking against the stone walls. As the top of the bucket emerged from the dark abyss, he reached down further, grabbed the handle and lifted it over the edge without spilling a drop.
Joby unhooked the bucket from its rope, grabbed the pitcher, and glided back into the olive grove where Scratch was eagerly waiting. Without a word, Joby filled the pitcher for Scratch first, and listened as his dog lapped greedily. Sitting down next to him, Joby drank with his hands.
From Part 1 of the The Shadow Tribe, "The Boy with the Scar." Only $.99 in Kindle.