Broken Roads

Summary: Living on the streets wasn't the easiest life, but it wasn't the worst one. A brief run-in with Deputy Commander Snake, Commander Durendal, and a runaway girl from the palace is about to change everything though.

Author's Notes: Well, this was a fun bit to write. An actual, chaptered story! There's six chapters total, and an epilogue. And yes, I've even finished writing the entire thing! I wrote this in about two days, with a good deal of encouragement from Robin. It's different than what I usually write, but it was fun, and I think it's one of my better pieces. And if you start out confused, just hang in there and hopefully things will clear themselves up!

Disclaimer: If you recognize it from Dave Duncan's fantastic works, then I don't own it (except in paperback).

The other boys always thought he was crazy, but he'd made a habit of scamming Blades. He had an incredible success rate, too--probably because the Blades thought no one would be stupid enough to ever actually try and scam them, especially not the scrawny, dirty kid with the big, blue eyes and too-long blond hair.

By rights, at almost-fifteen, he could have had a job doing real work, but he barely passed for twelve most of the time, and whenever he'd tried to hire on somewhere, they never took him seriously.

And it wasn't as if the Blades couldn't afford it--they had a decent salary, and they lived in the palace; what did they need the money for, anyway? It's not like they had to really work most of the time, either. Just stand around and look menacing.

The others never could understand his dislike for the Blades, either. Some of the younger boys talked of running off to Ironhall. Not that any of them ever would; Starkmoor was a long way from Grandon, and they barely had enough food to survive day to day here in the city. But for the others, it was a pleasant enough fantasy, and when they were sitting around in the early evening with nothing else to do, they'd pick up sticks and play at Blades and Bad Guys.

He was always a Bad Guy, and he always won.

That was something else the others never understood about him. When he did play with them, which wasn't often, he would wallop them all into the ground. He was fast, and he didn't just wave the sticks around wildly like the littler boys did. He would block and jab and dance away from the flailing attempts to "kill" him.

Despite his peculiarities, the other boys were in awe of him, and there wasn't any question that he was the leader of their group. He always made sure there was enough food, and that if it was raining they had someplace to stay dry, and if it was cold at night, there were blankets to curl up under.

All in all, it wasn't the worst life to be living. But even he knew it couldn't last forever.

"Hey Cap," a dark-haired boy called, flopping down on the ground next to his older friend.

"Whatta ya want, Raz? Can't you see I'm busy?" the boy called Cap asked, shoving the younger boy a little.

"You're moping, Cap. And Ratter said he saw a Blade headed toward the market. Thought you'd want to know," Raz replied. Cap sighed, getting up from his favorite corner in the abandoned house they'd taken over the week before.

"You're in charge until I get back. Keep 'em from doing anything too stupid," Cap told Raz. The younger boy grinned and slid into Cap's spot on the floor, trying to look self-important.

"I'm in charge!" he yelled through the room as Cap made his way out the back door, headed towards the market. They had some food in the house, but they would need more if everyone was going to be fed in the morning, and if he could snatch the Blade's coin purse at the same time, all the better.

He caught sight of his target looking at trinkets and baubles. He didn't recognize him, which was a good thing; Cap made it a point to never con the same Blade twice. The man was thin, with dark hair and a thin mustache that made him look like someone had taken a piece of charcoal and drawn it on. Cap thought it looked stupid, but it was in style right now, as were the outrageous clothes the man was wearing; the only real indication that he was a Blade was the gleaming cat's-eye sword at his waist.

But if the man could afford the clothes and the baubles he was looking at, he could certainly afford to donate his money to a good cause, such as a group of hungry boys with no home or family to call their own. It almost felt unfair to take advantage of a Blade, but it was just too easy; and besides, they owed him.

The Blade continued on his way through the market, stopping to sniff the colognes that barely covered up the stink of animal droppings. He tried on a ridiculous looking hat with a feather a foot or so long that dangled down ridiculously, then headed towards the food carts; that was Cap's cue.

He rubbed at his eyes to make it look as if he'd been crying, hunched his shoulders down with the almost-empty coin purse clutched tightly in hand, and went to stand in front of a cart looking pathetic and miserable. Staring longingly at the loaves of fresh bread (he'd not eaten since yesterday so the others would have enough, so it wasn't difficult), he sniffed a few times, loud enough for the Blade to hear.

The vendor was giving him the stink-eye, so he looked at him hopefully.

"How much for a loaf, sir?" His voice squeaked, but he tried not to flinch; it only helped his plan.

"Three silvers," the vendor replied. He'd seen the Blade watching him, and let his face fall, not letting himself over-act.

"Oh," he said softly, dumping the handful of coppers into his palm. "How much can I get for four coppers?" he asked. The vendor scowled.

"A crust of yesterday's bread," was the curt reply. He winced, not even having to act.

"All I've got is four coppers, sir, and my ma is sick and my little sister May hasn't eaten since yesterday," he said, coaxing a tear to slip out. The vendor, who obviously hadn't noticed the Blade, scowled.

"No charity," he snapped. "Now run off before you scare away customers." The Blade stepped closer; Cap gave a mental chuckle.

"Three silvers, you said?" the Blade asked the vendor, who looked startled at this new inquiry. He blustered for a moment, caught sight of the sword, and forced a smile.

"Two for you, good sir," the vendor replied. Cap saw the Blade scowl, but pull open his coin purse. He withdrew four silver coins.

"Two loaves, then," the Blade said, handing over the coins and taking two of the larger, fresher loaves of bread. Cap gave the Blade a desperate, hopeful look, but didn't think he managed the amount of awe he should have; no matter, the Blade was handing him the loaves. "Here you go, lad."

Cap grinned brightly in success. In a moment of inspiration, he threw his arms around the Blade, thanking him profusely for his generosity. While the man stood rather awkwardly as the dirty boy hugged him, Cap helped himself to the coins in the Blade's purse.

"Thank you again!" he said, and before he could be caught, darted off into the crowd and back towards the eight boys he took care of. Once clear of the market, he couldn't help but smile. "Fool," he said to the absent Blade.

Another day's good work.

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