The Street Rat's Guide to Spells and Royalty, Chapter 1

Published on 25 September 2023 at 19:02

This was the apple’s fault.

            I flailed my way to the river surface with a large gasp, bruised apple clutched in my right hand. I stood a better chance at swimming with both hands, but no way was I letting go of the apple now. It was the fruit’s fault I was in this mess.

            Okay, technically, stealing the apple might have started the chase, leading to the guards cornering me on the bridge. Which led to me jumping off the bridge to escape.

            Admittedly, not my best plan. I regretted the choice the second I sank into the icy river and remembered two very important things.

            One: It was March and the river was freezing.

            Two: I didn’t know how to swim.

            Getting arrested didn’t sound so bad anymore.

            If there’d been no apple, I wouldn’t have stolen it. Therefore, this was the apple’s fault.

            It was going to taste delicious when I finally had a chance to eat it. 

            “Get back here you filthy street rat!” The guards on the bridge shouted. Guards might mean safety and protection for everyone else, but they meant danger to street rats and other scum like me. If no one important would miss you, being arrested was code for ‘Ship them off to the King’s Airforce where they’ll never be heard from again.’ I needed to get back on land if I didn’t want them to corner me.

            Ha. As if I could control where I went in the water. It was all I could do to keep my head above the surface. Walls on the riverbank kept the waters from flooding the streets when it rained, but it also kept dumb people like me from easily drifting to safety. All the gears and bits I kept in my pockets didn’t help, not to mention the wrench dangling from my belt.

            New priority: Don’t drown. Even if they did pull me out of the river and take me to the guardhouse, I could probably escape before they got there. I’d done it before.

            Or, if I could maneuver myself through the water, I could reach the waterwheel coming up. Similar wheels lined river, powering many of the city’s factories.

            It was a dumb plan. Jade would skin me alive if she knew what I was about to do. But with all the other stupid stuff I’d done that day alone, what difference would one more make?

            “Please let this work,” I muttered, praying to some deity I didn’t believe in.

            The waterwheel turned lazily. It was easy enough to grab one of the spokes and let it pull me along a few feet. It was much harder to hold on when the spoke started rising into the air.

            I jammed the apple in my mouth to free up my other hand and hooked my feet onto whatever holds I could find.

            “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” one of the guards yelled.

            I spared a moment to raise my middle finger at them. That was all the time I had, because now the real challenge began. I had to climb on top of the water wheel, while it was moving, and then figure out a way down.

            One of the benefits of this water wheel was that the attached cotton factory came right up to the river, so the guards had no direct access to me.

            That was the only benefit.

            The wheel continued to turn. I struggled to keep my grip and keep climbing. My boots slipped off the bar and I dangled from my hands, barely holding on when the rotation dunked me into the water.

            I almost lost the apple.

            King’s bloody beard. I hated water.

            I wasn’t sure how I managed to get on top. Most, if not all, of my effort was pure spite.

            Staying on the wheel? That was more of a challenge than getting up there had been. I had to hold onto the sides and continuously crawl, and I had to pray I didn’t slip. Nothing was dry.

            “Where are you going to go now, Ace?” a guard yelled. He peered around the corner of the factory. Another guard leaned around the front corner. This one in particular had been chasing me for years, but I didn’t know when he’d learned my name.

            I shook my head, both at myself and at the guards. I was an idiot for more than one reason, but the guards weren’t much better. They’d been chasing me around this city for almost a decade, and they still thought they’d cornered me. I’d been willing to jump off a bridge, despite not knowing how to swim, and I wasn’t out of tricks yet.

            I couldn’t go down, and they’d blocked either side. The only place left was up.

            The window about five feet above the wheel was easy enough to jump to. My fingers hooked onto the ledge, and I braced my feet against the wall.

            With a lot of cursing and aching muscles, I grabbed onto the top ledge of the window and rested my feet on the bottom ledge. A careful leap, and now I dangled from the edge of the roof. Hauling myself onto the shingles with trembling arms, I finally had a chance to take a victory bite of my prize.  

            The apple tasted like the river, which was disappointing. But I ate it anyway, because I had not done all that work for nothing.

            I ate as I walked, crossing the top of the roof like a tightrope. The barest breeze went right through my river drenched clothes, and I shivered.

            I jumped to another roof, and then up to another, dodging around crooked chimneys and their steam clouds. A few streets over, the clock tower jutted into the skyline, and I used it to orient myself. I finished the apple, core and all, and tossed the stem to the ground below.

            With both hands free, my progress picked up considerably. Just in time, too, because the guards had finally unmoored their steamcycles.

            Small and agile, steamcycles were only big enough for one or two passengers. Unlike steamcars, riders had to straddle the engine in steamcycles and risk burning their calves on the copper pipes connected to the pistons mounted on the back half. Without the extra weight of a full cab, steamcycles could fly faster and higher.

            Four steamcycles popped up over the roofs, the guards crouched low over the steering wheels, goggles lowered from their dark blue caps to cover their eyes.

            Like this, they would catch me easily. I couldn’t outrun steamcycles over the rooftops.

            So, I dropped back down to the ground, using a restaurant’s hanging sign to swing safely to the cobblestone.

            A few people screamed at my sudden appearance. One recognized my bright red hair and made a grab for me, but I ducked and sprinted down the street. I passed a newsboy and plucked the boy’s cap right off his head, setting it on my own in one smooth motion. That would hide my cursed hair, at least. I was far less noticeable when people couldn’t see the unusual color.

            The damp clothes gave me away for a while, but I knew the streets better than the guards ever would. I charged up the steps outside the hatmaker’s shop onto Rowan Boulevard, weaved through a crowd listening to a Chimer yell about revolution, and slipped into the alley between the best baker in town and the meanest butcher.

            The clock in the central square chimed seven times.

            I rounded the corner out of the alley and collided with someone, sending us both to the ground.

            “You clumsy oaf!” the man yelled.

            “Sorry, sir,” I said. I jumped to my feet and helped the older man up. Better to play the apologetic kid than make the man even angrier. “Late for dinner, Ma’s probably worried sick, you know.”

            “That doesn’t excuse you,” the man snapped. He had a narrow face and arched brows, and his clothes looked personally tailored. Black boots shone on the cobblestones, neatly laced, and his coat sleeves ended perfectly at his wrists.

            I helped myself to the man’s pockets while brushing him off, slipping a heavy wallet under my stained shirt.

            “I’ll be more careful, sir,” I promised. 

            “See that you do,” the man said, glaring.

            I picked up his top hat. Bronze goggles sat around the base. He must use steamcars a lot to be willing to spring for such a nice set. I held out the hat for him.

            The man hesitated before taking it, staring at me with narrowed eyes.

            “Um…sir?” I prompted. The man didn’t know I had pickpocketed him, did he? That was always awkward. Plus, I didn’t know if I was up for another chase through the city.

            The man reached his hand out. Instead of taking his own hat, he grabbed the newsboy cap I had just stolen. “I knew it.”

            “Hey! Give that back!” I may have only had the hat for five minutes, but I was rather attached to it already.

            “You’re coming with me,” the man said, trying to grab my arm.

            I danced out of the way. “Not a chance in hell.” Still holding his top hat, I bolted. The man could keep the newsboy cap. This hat and the goggles would pay for a weeks’ worth of meals. Not to mention whatever was in the wallet I’d nabbed. I might even be able to afford my own decent coat for once.

            A hand grabbed my shoulder. “You’re not getting away so easily, not this time.”

            This time? I’d never met this man in my life. I’d remember running into someone this wealthy.

            “You’ve got the wrong guy,” I told him, twisting out of his grasp.

            “Oh no, you’re definitely the one,” he said. 

            He reached for me again.

            A fox jumped down from a windowsill, landing perfectly on the gentleman and knocking him into the street.

            “Nice save, Sel!” I cheered, already running away.

            Sel bounded after me and overtook me, leading me around a corner. I knew he would lead me to safety. He always did, ever since I shared a meat pie with him as a kid.

            I didn’t know where Sel lived most of the time, but he always appeared when I needed help. His fur was a strange mossy green color, and a gold collar hung around his neck. Some rich person probably didn’t keep a close eye on him one day, and now Sel roamed the city as a free fox.  

            In a way, he was a street rat just like me.


Add comment


There are no comments yet.

Create Your Own Website With Webador