The three boys looked down at the rubble filled lagoon, all that was left of the urchin hideout and the Sneaky Vole bar that had been hidden in the dilapidated buildings of The Warren. At least everyone had got out safely when the fishmen attacked, though Lilith had a bad turn, the surprise was that Cargnack, the usually nasty boss of the Asylum had helped fight the creatures. Just goes to show you never can tell…
Of course, when he started firing that strange contraption of his, throwing lightning left and right, he wasn’t to know about the crates of smuggled Chinese fireworks hidden at the back, or the barrels of raw spirit, product of the cobbled together still, stored beneath his feet. It was still good of him to try and help.
The trouble was that now the still, and various other urchin treasures, were sunk and buried in the canals. In the early morning light of this chill November morning, Tepic and his companions, Billy No-Toes and Snotty Charlie gathered armfuls of wooden debris. They built a fire at the canal steps just where they vanished into the murky water and warmed themselves for the task ahead.
“Right Snotty, yer go up top an keeps yer eyes peeled fer them fishmen.” Tepic said, “Yell out good an clear if yer sees anything, them buggers ain’t playin!”
The lad nodded and sniffed loudly before heading for his appointed station as the fox boy turned his attention to his other companion,
“Got the ropes?” he asked, then continued at his friend’s nod, “Them bags of lime, soon as Snotty yells an points ’em out, toss ’em out as far as yer can in that direction an yank me rope twice, ok?”
He carefully disrobed, folding each precious item of clothing, placing them higher up the steps where they would be dry. Though the morning was bitterly cold, going into the water dressed would be a mistake as he would remain chilled all day. Billy helped him tie one of the ropes around his waist and coiled the other over his shoulders, then with just a moment’s hesitation, he dropped feet first into the murky water.
The cold drove the air from his lungs, and he broke surface gasping. After a few breaths he regained his composure and dived under the surface, casting round for any familiar wreckage. Even underwater there were shapes, broken parts and fragments of graffiti that helped him orientate, surfacing regularly to get his bearings from the surrounding buildings. Finally, he caught a glimpse of coppery metal and with some effort the boys were able to recover most of the still parts, though the tubing was bent and crushed.
It may have puzzled the grown inhabitants of the City that the urchins would take so much trouble to recover the still – were the urchins so addicted to spirits? What they did not know were the myriad of other purposes this vital collection of equipment was put. During the winter it condensed essence of mint, to clear the chest and nose of cold ridden youngsters, among other folk remedies, and the rest of the year other herbs were preserved as oils and lotions.
Though Tepic was able to recover some bottles and a few other small items along with the still, he could not find the urchin strongbox. It was there they had secreted any surplice coins and other treasures over the past year, ready for a rainy day. Now it was lost, and the days to come looked rainy indeed.
The boys crowded round the fire, Tepic wrapped in a huge towel they had borrowed from the Turkish Baths earlier. He had been blue when he finally came out of the water, unable to speak due to the chattering of his teeth, wracked with severe bouts of shivering. Billy had thrown the towel, warmed by the fire, around him, pummelling him dry while Snotty ran over to the Church of the Builder, bringing back a bowl of hot soup.
A little later the three companions sauntered off, their recovered swag slung between them in the purloined towel, happily searching for a new home for the urchin still…..