Chapter no 24: Shadows Themselves

The Name of the Wind

THROUGH ALL MY TIME in Tarbean, I continued to learn, though most of the lessons were painful and unpleasant.

I learned how to beg. It was a very practical application of acting with a very difficult audience. I did it well, but Waterside money was tight and an empty begging bowl meant a cold, hungry night.

Through dangerous trial and error I discovered the proper way to slit a purse and pick a pocket. I was especially good at the latter. Locks and latches of all kinds soon gave up their secrets to me. My nimble fingers were put to a use my parents or Abenthy never would have guessed.

I learned to run from anyone with an unnaturally white smile. Denner resin slowly bleaches your teeth, so if a sweet-eater lives long enough for their teeth to grow fully white, chances are they have already sold everything they have worth selling. Tarbean is full of dangerous people, but none as dangerous as a sweet-eater filled with the desperate craving for more resin. They will kill you for a pair of pennies.

I learned how to lash together makeshift shoes out of rags. Real shoes became a thing of dreams for me. The first two years it seemed like my feet were always cold, or cut, or both. But by the third year my feet were like old leather and I could run barefoot for hours over the rough stones of the city and not feel it at all.

I learned not to expect help from anyone. In the bad parts of Tarbean a call for help attracts predators like the smell of blood on the wind. I was sleeping on the rooftops, snugged tightly into my secret place where three roofs met. I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of harsh laughter and pounding feet in the alley below me.

The slapping footsteps stopped and more laughter followed the sound of ripping cloth. Slipping to the edge of the roof, I looked down to the alley below. I saw several large boys, almost men. They were dressed as I was, rags and dirt. There may have been five, maybe six of them. They moved in and out of the shadows like shadows themselves. Their chests heaved from their run and I could hear their breath from the roof above.

The object of the chase was in the middle of the alley: a young boy, eight

years old at the most. One of the older boys was holding him down. The young boy’s bare skin shone pale in the moonlight. There was another sound of ripping cloth, and the boy gave a soft cry that ended in a choked sob.

The others watched and talked in low urgent tones with each other, wearing hard, hungry smiles.

I’d been chased before at night, several times. I’d been caught too, months ago. Looking down, I was surprised to find a heavy red roof tile in my hand, ready to throw.

Then I paused, looking back to my secret place. I had a rag blanket and a half a loaf of bread there. My rainy-day money was hidden here, eight iron pennies I had hoarded for when my luck turned bad. And most valuable of all, Ben’s book. I was safe here. Even if I hit one of them, the rest would be on the roof in two minutes. Then, even if I got away, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

I set down the tile. I went back to what had become my home, and curled myself into the shelter of the niche underneath the overhanging roof. I twisted my blanket in my hands and clenched my teeth, trying to shut out the low rumble of conversation punctuated by coarse laughter and quiet, hopeless sobbing from below.

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