Tepic sat at the bar of the Vole long after the others had vanished off to the sleeping places, happy from the success of the evening’s adventures. It had been fun, running all the way over to the Brunel and heading down to the cellars, which were wonderfully built. They were also filled with all sorts of dry goods, cheese, hams and sausages, enough to delight an urchin’s eyes, as well as casks of beers, bottles of wine and other spirits. He had scaled the stacked barrels and unhooked a ham while the other urchins wandered around in a daze, and was almost at the cellar door when he heard the footsteps coming down, or rather hoof-steps! He plastered himself against the wall and as soon as the man had passed, he yelled out to run, scampering up the stairs to safety. That was how it goes, you pile into a place, grab what you can, then when they find you, you all scatter and run for it. Sure, some will get caught, but most of you get off no problem. But this time it was different. He had waited out on the street to see who might need help as they dashed to safety, but only a few urchins went by, the others…. the others stayed behind, trapped by Mr Mornington.
Eventually, he had gone back to the Vole, where he heard the whole story of the deal from the triumphant gang when they returned later. The night had turned into an all out party, with much congratulations and back-slapping, but Tepic was not so sure the adventure had been the success the others thought. Over the past few years it had been possible for an urchin in need to scrounge a bite to eat or a drop to drink round the back of most of the pubs and bars in the City, and the kitchens of the Brunel had been a good, reliable source, having so many rich people staying and eating there. The Gangplank had a policy of letting urchins drink for free as well, though most urchins preferred to drink in the company of their peers at the Vole. They hadn’t been caught there, but it was likely the mass invasion would have left evidence of their presence. Now any urchin turning up at their door would likely be viewed with suspicion, and kept under close watch. The bar owners talked to each other too…. well…. shouted at each other…. but they did pass on information, as anyone barred from one establishment rapidly found to their discomfort! Loki had some good ideas, and he was their leader, sort of, but tell the truth, he had been away for some time and even before he had the Old Theatre to fall back on, he hadn’t been on the streets for a while. They had beer and cheese for as long as Mr Mornington kept his end of the bargain, but this was only the beginning of the cold weather, and turning people against them was not good planning for later…..
The others didn’t remember the other years, the long hard winters, the lads and lasses you saw in the months up to the autumn, then whose faces faded into distant memory with the falling of the snow. He had found the first the morning after the snow fell, as he walked his early morning round delivering the milk. Just visible in the corner of an alley, a sheltered and dry place during the spring and summer, there was an oddly shaped mound of snow. When he investigated, it was as he had feared, curled up as though asleep was the cold, dead body of a young lad he had seen in passing the past few weeks. This had probably been his spot, safely out of the way of prying eyes, and a good place until the snows came, when it turned into a deadly trap for the unwary. Further on he had found others, this time wet, shivering and cold but at least alive, mostly because they had grouped together and kept each other going. He sent them off to various safe places where they could at least dry off and warm up a bit before heading out to scrounge food. After his deliveries he had borrowed a hand cart, then took the poor lad over to the grave-digger’s place, to be interred with the other poor wretches, in a common grave. He handed two small copper coins to the old man, safe in the knowledge they would be used as needed, and not drunk away the same evening.
This was only the start of the winter, coal was already short, and now they may have upset some who had traditionally given charity when needed. How many more would there be like the poor un-named lad, before the spring came round again?