Rory congratulated herself on her timing. She and Jake had just reached the end of the lane and, peering around the corner, she could see the mark a few yards away. He was a trader with a belly that hung over his belt and a self-satisfied air. She could already tell how pleased with himself he would look when he stepped in to save the poor, scrawny urchin girl from a beating.
She counted down silently with her fingers. Three, two, one.
Rory launched herself into the trader’s path with a shriek. Startled, the man jumped back just as Jake burst into the street, his face contorted into a perfectly fearsome mask. He grabbed Rory with his paddle-sized hands, lifting her off the ground.
“Help!” she screamed, kicking her legs in the air, careful to miss Jake.
Jake drew back a meaty hand as though to strike her. She screeched again, waiting for the mark to react. Any moment now, he would step forward, his face a sneer, his rapier drawn, and he would tell Jake to ‘let the girl go.’
Jake snarled, and raised his hand further behind him. Rory cowered in his grasp.
“Please not again, please no, please…” she gabbled.
The target stood aside, gawking, as though seagulls had pecked out his brains.
“Teach you to try and run away,” Jake grunted.
Rory had picked a dud.
Nothing for it, Jake was going to have to follow through and hit her or the game would be up.
Jake’s hand came down in a wide arc, just catching her cheek. Rory let her head snap to one side, howling out to make it seem more painful than it was. Still the merchant stood watching. She cursed under her breath. If he was going to be cowardly, the least he could do was leave and be cowardly somewhere else so they could end this charade.
Jake raised his hand again.
“Not so fast now.”
At last, the melodious sound of a rapier being pulled out of its scabbard. The trader pointed his blade at Jake.
“Put the girl down.”
“Not your gods-damned business,” Jake grunted.
“I’ve just made it my business. Put her down.”
Jake glowered ever so convincingly at the man, and let Rory drop to the ground. She made a show of collapsing onto the cobblestones before scrambling up towards the trader.
“Now go.” The man raised his chin haughtily behind his rapier.
Jake grunted again, and skulked off down the lane from which they had come, making it look all the more narrow as he squeezed his massive frame through it.
“Thank you, sir, oh thank you!” Rory grabbed the trader’s distended waistcoat as she pulled herself up. “I been trying to escape for months sir, months!” She squeezed out a few tears for good measure and sniffled loudly. The mark she could feel on her cheek no doubt made it look all the more realistic. Maybe having Jake hit her wasn’t such a disaster after all.
“Now see here —”
“I got no one, sir,” Rory continued, still clinging to him as though she was drowning and he was the last plank of wood left in the world. “I’m an orphan and all alone, my family died.” At this she began to wail loudly.
The trader extricated himself from her clutching fingers, his philanthropic aspirations rapidly vanishing.
“There, there…I’m sorry but, er, I can’t do anything for you. I’m only passing through Damsport, you see.”
That was a lie, he was clearly a Damsian.
“Please, sir!” She wailed louder, clutching at him faster than he could remove her hands. Her fingers felt his purse, and she was delighted to find that it was as fat as he was.
“Now see here,” said the trader. “I have to leave, my ship… Will you just…get off!”
He gave her a shove and she staggered back, the purse vanishing into one of her pockets. She gave the trader a forlorn look, cutting a pathetic figure in her rags, mess of rope-like hair, and snotty nose — the gods be thanked for her ability to sniffle on demand.
The trader hurried away without looking back.
When he had turned the corner, Rory spat once on the cobblestones.
Saving the girl always worked, but no one wanted to actually save the girl. They only wanted that brief moment of glory when they pointed their rapier at Jake. That was fine by Rory, they just had to pay the price of their purse for the privilege of feeling like a hero for a few minutes.
She hurried after Jake, grinning. He was waiting for her at the rendezvous point.
About the Author
Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China. Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.