179/366 – TheUnexpected Meeting

Day 37 of 100 Word Prompts: Candy

Byron looked out into the street for signs of anyone watching for him. When he was satisfied that no one could see him, he stepped out into the sunlight with a satisfied smile on his face. He walked past a few shop fronts along the busy street, past boxes, crates, and kegs sitting along the right side.

“Hey!” he heard from inside one shop as he continued walking. “Sir!”

Byron felt a tiny hand grab his hand and le looked down to see a small child with candy on a stick in its mouth. The kid had sandy blond hair and freckles on his cheeks. Their tattered clothes told Byron everything he needed to know about the kid in an instant.

“Can I help you?” Byron asked as the kid beamed up at him.

“Sir! You need to pay for that!” a voice called from behind him.

“Are you kidding me?” Byron asked as the kid winked at him.

Byron turned to see a stern-looking fellow marching through the crowd toward him. The man’s apron was covered with various sugary confections that had crystallized against the fabric. His bald head reflected the light, creating a bright spot against his dark skin.

“Sir, would you please pay for your kid’s candy? He walked out without paying for it,” the confectioner asked as he got closer.

“I don’t know this kid,” Byron replied with a shrug.

“He seems to know you,” the confectioner replied, pointing to the hand the kid had grabbed.

Byron tried to pull his hand free, but the kid’s grip was impressive.

“I can promise you, Sir. I’ve never met this kid before,” Byron said as the kid hugged his leg. He looked down at the blue eyes sparkling up toward him, “Are you kidding me?”

“Someone needs to pay for what he took,” the confectioner said.

From over the man’s shoulder, Byron saw more kids ranging in age from five or six through teenagers funneling through the door as they emerged a moment later with handfuls of candy. The con immediately came to clarity for Byron.

“Alright, Sir. You got me. My apologies,” Byron said with a nod as he pulled his coin pouch from his belt. “How much is the piece of candy my son took?”

“One copper piece,” the confectioner replied, holding out his hand.

“One copper for that?” Byron said, pointing to the kid who was looking up at him in disbelief now. “That’s hardly worth one copper.”

“Normally, those are five for a copper, but I would prefer if you and your boy don’t return to my shop,” the confectioner replied, snapping his fingers.

Byron shook his head, feigning discontent as he waited for the last kid he saw run through the door come out. He reached into the pouch and pulled one of the pieces from the pouch.

“Very well, Sir. I’ll be giving my boy a lesson in the future.” Byron’s eyes fell to the boy as he gave him a disapproving look. “He needs to understand the value of one’s hard work.”

“Thank you,” the confectioner replied as he snatched the piece from Byron’s hand. “Please, do not come back.”

“I won’t,” Byron said with a shake of his head as his grip tightened on the kid’s shirt, “you’ll never have to deal with either of us again.”

The confectioner turned on heel and walked back to his store as the kid began struggling under Byron’s grip. Byron lifted the struggling boy under his arm and bolted for an alley across the street. He zig-zagged through a handful of twists and turns to make sure that the confectioner wouldn’t find him.

“Lemme go!” the kid cried out as they rounded the fourth turn.

Byron stopped at a crate, setting the child in front of him.

“What the hell is your problem, kid?” Byron asked.

“I’m sorry, Mister. I really wanted some-”

“Don’t play stupid with me, kid. I know a scam when I see one. Why the hell would you pull me into it? I saw your friends cleaning out that shop. You’re lucky that I’m nicer than most. What’s the long con?” Byron asked.

The kid looked up at him, tears brimming in his eyes. “We’ve never-”

“Don’t lie to me, kid. What’s your name?” Byron said.

Byron watched the kid’s expression change from pathetic to stern.

“Alright, buddy,” the kid replied, his voice suddenly growing deep and resonate.

“What the-”

“I’m not a kid,” he said. “I’m a halfling. The name’s Cade. What do you want?”

“That makes more sense,” Byron said, nodding as he took a step back. “are the others halflings too?”

“No, just me,” Cade said, shaking his head. “That’s why I’m the one the shopkeeper sees. I don’t want the kids getting in trouble.”

“Why a confectioner?” Byron asked, dumbfounded.

“Let’s walk and talk,” Kale said, standing up on the crate and dusting himself off. “I told the kids to meet me at our hideout.

Byron motioned for Cade to lead the way.

“Alright, thanks,” Cade said as he hopped off the crate and began walking. “Sorry for pulling you into my play. I didn’t think you were another in the craft.”

“You still haven’t told me why you chose to roll a confectionary,” Byron replied.

“The kids have been working extra hard the last week collecting everything we need to survive. I thought they deserved something special,” Cade replied as he pulled the tattered shirt over his head, revealing the studded armor vest he wore beneath. “Have you ever had kids?”

“No,” Byron answered, shaking his head.

“This way,” Cade said as they reached the end of the alley and turned left onto the street.

“You take care of kids? What’s the long game? Are you starting a company or something?” Byron asked. “If that’s the case, you may want to warn some of the older kids about other companies in the area.”

“We aren’t starting a company,” Cade replied. “These kids are mostly orphans or runaways. They didn’t know how to even take care of themselves. I had to do something about it.”

“You didn’t have to put them in danger,” Byron said. “If you’re a thief or a con artist, you know how dangerous it can be for kids.”

“I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember, buddy,” Cade replied. “I understand the dangers that come with it. I don’t let the kids do anything too far along that might draw attention from the wrong people.”

“So what are you? Some kind of charity?” Byron asked.

“Something like that,” Cade said, leading him into another alley, and down a set of stairs into a desiccated building. “This is our hideout.”

Cade pushed the door open to reveal broken bunks and bedrolls along the walls. Against the back wall, another door stood ajar with a glimpse of tables. Several children were already there, some eyeing him suspiciously as they ate their candy.

In the backroom, tables lined two walls. The tables had all manner of items on them that one could need to live. There were wax wrapped cheeses, dried meats, some fresh fruits. Bedrolls and blankets were on another table.

“It’s not much,” Cade said, “but if you need anything, feel free.”

“Is this an orphanage?” Byron asked, looking around.

“It was once,” Cade replied. “Long before I came here. The rich folks up on the hill hired some mercenaries to get rid of the ‘swine,’ my predecessor told me. They came and burned down the building.”

“The people on the hill did that?” Byron said, pointing in that direction.

“Yeah, this city has it’s problems for sure. The upper tier of the city is where the rich people live and expect all the working-class people to serve them from down here,” Cade replied. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, I was just passing through,” Byron said.

“So, what’s your deal?” Cade asked. “Humble thief? A con man?”

“Mostly scam artist until recently,” Byron replied.

“What sorts of scams?” Cade asked as he fished a gold piece from his pocket and held it out, “For your troubles.”

Byron’s hand moved toward the coin without him thinking. He paused before dropping it in his pouch and looked down at the shining gold piece.

“How much do you have?” Byron asked.

“Not much, honestly. But I assume you’re here to work and make some money. It’s only right since you didn’t turn us in,” Cade replied.

“I didn’t turn you in on principle,” Byron replied, tossing the coin back to Cade. “It was a fake copper piece anyway.”

“Really?” Cade asked. “How’d you pull that off?”

Byron fished one of the wood coins from his pouch and held it up. “Watch.” Byron moved his other hand over the top of it, blocking it from view for a second. When Cade saw it again, it looked identical to a copper piece.

“That’s a handy trick,” Cade said. “It’s still wood?”

Byron tossed it to Cade. “I’ll be damned,” Cade said. “It’s so light, but it looks right. I could see someone falling for it in some situations.”

“It only lasts for a minute as long as I focus on it,” Byron replied, letting the magic wane. The copper coin lost its luster and returned to the wooden piece.

“Impressive,” Cade said, holding it out for Byron.

“It comes in handy sometimes,” Byron said, dropping the wooden piece back into the pouch. “Do you know any magic?”

“No, I’m just a simple thief,” Cade replied. “There are a few people that I know that know magic, however. Maybe one of them can teach the kids? I’ve tried, but never had much of a knack for it.”

“Any of the kids show an inclination for magic?” Byron asked.

“Greg and Lyle, the twins over there, have a unique relationship with magic. I’ve seen them do things without meaning to a few times. Not sure what’s going on with that. Elise, the little dark-haired girl on the other side, can light candles, or put them out, without much effort,” Cade replied. “I try to keep the magic to a minimum, so they don’t get in trouble, though.”

“Maybe I could teach some of the kids something at some point. You wouldn’t happen to know a place that a person such as me could stay that wouldn’t be easily found, would you?” Byron asked.

“I’m curious, but I’m not going to ask questions,” Cade replied. “There’s the Silver Lion Inn in the lower ring. It’s a bit hard to find unless you know where it is. So, it should suit your needs. I’ll warn you, though, there are three gnomes there that sit at the bar, you’ll probably want to keep your distance from them. They deal with magics from other planes. Things usually don’t go well for people that deal with them.”

“I appreciate the heads up,” Byron replied. “Would you be willing to show me this inn?”

“I can’t take you, but I’ll have Peter show you the way,” Cade replied, calling a blond boy over to them. “Peter, take this gentleman to the Silver Lion, okay?”

“You got it. Come on, Mister,” Peter said, beckoning Byron to come with him.

“Before you go, how long are you planning on staying in Frapton?” Cade asked.

“Until I find a better opportunity,” Byron replied with a wink as he walked out of the room behind Peter.

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