The full episode ("A Hole in the Sky") can be found at
Gouta Ricci, six years old, knew how to pout. “S’not fair, Da! Yer never let me do what Yona does.”
She stood with her father Da and older sister Yona on the Master Burgher Adeyemi Avenue, their worn cloaks and britches at odds with the flawless, cobbled street. It was past midnight and they stood with their backs to a flint wall in the dark space between pools of street lighting. Da had been particular about staying out of sight of the Watch Tower so they had kept close to walls on this side all the way up the avenue to where they now stopped.
Gouta tried to concentrate on her Da's reply, but Yona was pulling faces at her from behind his back, trying to distract her and get her in trouble. It was not fair But then, Yona was never fair to Gouta.
“Keep yer voice down Gouta, or yer’ll wake all the Nobs in the avenue”, her father breathed. “I told yer: Yona gets to climb tonight ’cos yer sister is a big girl”.
And that was the nub of it. Gouta did not understand why Yona was allowed to enjoy a more exciting life just because of a few years’ age difference. Why did Yona get all the good things in life? And why, with these advantages, was Yona still so mean to her?
She tried again. “But, Da…”
“Nah. Listen. Yona ’ad to wait ’til today, when she is ten, to do a job. Yer’s lucky, coming wiv us when yer’s only six.”
Her Da's face adopted a look that Gouta hated; the one that meant that she was about to lose the argument.
“Anyway, d’yer remember? I promised yer a purse of pennies after dis job, right? An’ what did yer say yer want ta buy wiv it?”
Yona poked out her tongue at Gouta from behind Da's back. Gouta wanted to yell at her but knew she dare not lose her focus on what Da was saying; he did not like that. She brought to mind the market stall, remembering the finished figures lying in rows on the table and, standing behind, the owner painting an infant’s face on an egg-shaped piece of wood.
“A dolly, Da.”
“Dat’s right. But if we ’ave to go ’ome ’cos yer can’t do yer part of the job, dere won’t be a purse an’ yer can’t buy dat dolly. So, as yer’s such a smart kid, tell me: is yer in or out?”
The familiar feeling of unfairness welled up inside her, but she wanted the dolly more. She clenched her teeth but a despairing moan still escaped. “Oh!”
Yona gave a wicked grin at Gouta’s agony then pulled a silly face, crossing her eyes and stretching her cheeks with her fingers.
Gouta was outnumbered. Da was being clever and Yona was being distracting. It was hopeless; she knew she had lost and hung her head.
“Good girl, Blackie. Said yer was smart. Now get in, do what yer practised an’ yer’ll be da best lookout da Thieves Guild ’as ever seen.”
He gestured at a pair of large night-soil barrels nearby, set against the wall. She remembered from one of Da’s lessons for Yona that a good burglar could climb up night-soil drain pipes to reach unlocked windows, and the pipes would never rattle thanks to being clamped to the barrel tops with tight leather seals. But tonight, her Da was not interested in the building above them. Instead, he would use these barrels and the avenue’s nearby star lamp for a hidden lookout post.
Gouta hesitated as she approached the barrels, fearing their stench, but found it was nowhere near as bad as the reeking cesspit below their alley’s communal privy back home in Dockside. For her whole life, no one had ever paid to have it emptied. She wished their privy smelled as little as these barrels and thought it must be nice to afford someone to collect them and take the poop away while it was still fresh and not so smelly. Da had also taught that Nobs used night-soil barrels because they were “the last word in hygiene” and, knowing Nobs, perhaps because they were so expensive.
Gouta squeezed between the barrels and Da crouched down to help her disappear into the shadows behind. Once settled, she checked that she could peep out both ways along the avenue from her place behind them.
“Oh dat’s good, Blackie. I can ’ardly see yer in dere, an’ I know where ta look. Night time, dark shadows, an’ a black-as-black lookout; it don’t get no better.”
Gouta smiled up at him. Maybe Yona did get all the good things in life, but it was nice to get some praise for doing well.
Da sucked his teeth in appreciation. “I dunno why yer was born black ‘cos it weren’t from me or yer Ma. But it’ll ’elp yer a lot on night jobs. When yer grow up yer’ll be better’n me an’ Yona ’cos of it.”
Yona’s raised fist showed Gouta what she thought about that.
“Right, Blackie. Got yer whistle?”
Gouta pulled a polished wooden whistle out of her pocket and wrapped her hand around the small gemstone halfway along the shaft.
“Dat’s my smart Blackie. We don’t want dat ta sparkle an’ draw attention, do we?”
He straightened, ready to leave, and inserted a matching wooden item, gem first, into his ear. With its gem hidden in his ear canal and its wooden body almost the same shade of dark brown as his ear, it was no longer possible to see it by starlight.
“Blow good an’ ’ard, Blackie. An’ remember yer signals.”
He pointed up the avenue and away from the city centre.
“Just as a game, pretend yer see a Watch patrol coming right now from way up dere. Quick! Blow me da signal for it.”
A test! She liked to show Da how smart she was. Still behind him, Yona was making another attempt to distract her by poking a hand out between Da’s legs, bunching her fist and letting the limp middle finger hang down.
Drawing his attention to what Yona was doing would only be a waste of effort; easily denied by Yona. Instead, Gouta grinned. The contest was on and she was going to beat her sister in this silly game.
She glanced to her left and imagined a patrol squad marching round the distant corner, on their way back to their city-centre station. With the correct patterns of short twits, long woos and pauses, she blew a barrage of silent twit-woo signals for:
The enthusiastic force of it made Da raise a hand to his ear.
“Aye! Dat’s loud enough,” he said with a smile which was in part from pleasure, part from pain. “I reckon yer ready for dis. Just don’t blow like dat while I’m climbing, aye? Or yer’ll make me fall off in surprise.”
I hope you find this extract / episode of interest.
Pen name: DW Brownlaw
Author of the science fantasy series: The Metaverse on https://www.dwbrownlaw.net
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