- Joshua Fitch
The Kin of Amis Cretcher
There’s a difference between being sneaky and stealthy. Sneaking is moving around so no-one can hear you, as you look like a complete idiot. Stealthy is when you disappear altogether. Right now, I need to be stealthy.
I’m trailing some rich toff up Fleet Street, towards the spires of Saint Pauls. He’s some merchant making a small tobacco fortune in Jamaica. Basically, he’s got more money then he needs. While my job today is to steal a small purse for Ringrott, I think he’ll be happier with a small fortune. I mean, sneaking and eavesdropping is what Mr. Merbury spent my dozen years training me in. He was a man who realised secrets where as good as gold. But, Ringrott is only interested in the gang’s bottom line, so he’s got me in pick pocket duty. The toff moves through the streets brushing past people and horses as they move. It appear’s he’s making his way towards the Cheshire, probably for some meeting. It’s only then I realise that I don’t know where he’ll go next. I know he’s only visiting London, so he’ll be staying at an inn or pub. They door key will have the place’s name. Looks like I’ll be pickpocketing after all.
I pull out my pocket knife. I begin to move off and push through people to close the gap between the toff and myself. My eyes catch they key dangling from his belt. I line myself to do a pass beside him. I stick the knife out, just far enough to cut the leather laces holding the key to the belt. I brush beside him. I feel the leather giveaway under the sharp blade of the knife. I hold out my hand to catch it. I wait a full moment before I hear it. The sound of metal hitting cobbles. Shit, I’ve missed. Immediately I begin to run. I hear the yell of failure behind me.
“Stop! Thief!” I quickly push people out-of-the-way. With all the chaos and din, I hope like hell a constable isn’t around. I quickly notice the alley into Hind Court. I push my way sharply to the right. As soon as I hit the threshold of the alley, the people fall away and I begin to pick up some speed. I keep running, until I realise no-one is following me. Then I stop to catch my breath. While I’m not in trouble with the law, I know I’m in trouble elsewhere
I’m sitting in the chair back in the Ringrott’s lair. I can almost feel the stares of the rest of the gang looking through the rotted floorboards below. I know their already muttering or calling me names. I place my focus back on Ringrott as he begins to pace around me. I keep my eyes on his face, It’s so pimpled and scars he looks more like a raspberry than a man.
“Well what the fuck am I going to do with you, Amis Cretcher?” He asks, the anger palpable in his voice. “You’ve been nothing but trouble, for one fucking decade.”
“I’m sorry,” I hear my self say pitifully.
“I’m sorry, sir!” He corrects. “What the hell do you think you where doing?”
“I thought if we knew where he was keeping his money,” I begin to explain. Ringrott slams his desk.
“I didn’t ask you to find where he keeps the rest of his fucking money. I asked you to steal what he had!” He walks behind me, just so he can literally breath down my neck. “How many times have I told you that?”
“Too many, sir.”
“Yes, too many. In fact, to me it seems you forget every fucking time.” He walks back around you and sits on the desk he claims to have nicked from the Burbridge. “In my opinion Mr. Merbury, God rest his fucking soul, should have left you in the Thames. But, he wanted a little rat to scurry around. But, rats don't make fast money Cretcher. Rats don't belong here. I don’t need one, especially with Queen Lizzy and her court back in town. I don’t need the fucking trouble. Do you think anyone needs one now? This is the real fucking world. You really think you’ll survive doing that?”
“But, it’s what I’m good at,” I interject. Wrong move. Cretcher rushes closely into my face, our noses nearly touching.
“I don’t give a shit!” He yells. “You are going to bring me my gold!” He pauses for a moment. “Do you know what it’s like to be hungry on the street? Hoping to god that the plague will come back and end your fucking pain. You will do, If I don't have a nice plump purse from you by sundown. Understand?” I nod.” He flicks his wrist to dismiss me. I stand and begin to walk towards the rickety ladder back down to the rest of the lair. “Remember,” I hear him say. “You will play my game, not yours.”
I prowl through the streets. I feel my stomach get heavier and heavier. Part of me wants to break away from Ringrott. But, I know failing is an invitation to starvation and death. After all he’s right, no toff or gang-leader needs a sneak. But, part of me dreams of a place where I can do what I love. Where I can belong.
I search alleys and courts, looking for a target. But every time I get cold feet. I can’t afford to take a risk. I push on, scouring both Westminster and the square mile itself. There has to be someone I can steal from. All I need is one fucking purse. It’s then I notice a small passage I hadn’t been down yet. I cautiously walk down between the two buildings, keeping my hand pressed to the one on the right. I soon find myself in a small courtyard, sheltered on three sides my the normal thatched roofed cottages. But it’s the building opposite that catches my eye. A massive brick building, with tall windows and a set of steps that lead up to the first floor from the outside. I notice one of the words etched into the doorway. One even I recognise, ‘Society’. A place where rich, smart people gather. It’s only then I notice a perfect target. Next to a box full of members swords is a boy with blond hair, leaning impatiently on the wall at the bottom of the steps.
Blondy seemed to be about my age. He kept his hair messy, but firmly cut just below his ears. He’s dressed in a nice, clean shirt, with a cloak over the top. He clearly had some money, and I was sure I could take on someone at least my size. I walked towards him confidently. He looks up and notices me. I pretend to walk past him and stop on the first step. I play looking confused, before turning back to Blondy.
“Excuse me mate,” I begin. “Is this the Invisible Society?”
“No, sorry,” He replies. I take a step-down to be on his level.
“Well do you know where it is?” I ask. He looks at me suspiciously. “I need to collect a note from there,” I lie.
“No, I don’t know where it is. This is the Linguists’ Society.” I nod as I gently place a hand on his purse.
“Thanks anyway,” I say as I begin to tug on the purse as I move away.
Suddenly I’m blindsided by Blondy’s left hook. I stumble back, catching myself before I hit the cobbles. He gives me a cocked smile.
“Not happening mate,” He quips. I need that purse. I launch off the tips of my toes and tackle Blondy to the ground. I swing a couple of hits at his face. However he is somehow able to dodge the second before kneeing me in the stomach. I roll off him and Blondy jumps to his feet. I quickly find my feet too. Looking up I see Blondy staring back at me with a sword. I stop in my tracks, there is no way I’m going up against that. He smiles at me again.
“Do you know what,” He begins, “I really should be more gentlemanly.” He reaches behind and hands me another sword out of the box. “There we go,” He continues, “That’s much better.” So, Blondy is clearly insane. But, I’m not going to leave a chance to break his teeth. I thrust the sword towards him, and on what appears to be instinct, he blocks me. Twisting my sword out-of-the-way. Suddenly I see his sword flying towards me. I leap out of the way, rolling into a ball before finding myself on my knees in a crouch. Blondy’s sword swings at me again. I raise mine up to block. They met with a sharp clang. My sword keeps his from falling on my head. But, He keeps pushing. I fight this force as I rise back to my feet. Soon we’re eye to eye again. My sword still holding his back. Suddenly I step aside, pulling my sword with me. Blondy’s force suddenly sends him stumbling forward. I raise my sword and slice towards him. He lets out a gasp of pain, before turning to look at me. I notice I had made a scar on his right cheek.
We stop for a moment and stare at each other. While he checks his wound. I feel desperation take over. Every moment I'm here it’s a moment closer to sundown, to banishment. I need that purse now. Suddenly, I hear him scream. He is charging towards me, sword raise. Again, I dodge out-of-the-way. He blindly slices the blade in my direction. I block the blade with the sword before it can get close. For a second all his force is still in his stopped swing. I have control. I slide my sword towards his. He raises his sword, in a death-blow. I don’t have time to be fancy. I drop the sword and make sure my fist connects with his jaw. He stumbles backward, dropping his weapon. I go for a punch. But he raises his fists in a block. He sweeps my leg. I fall flat on my arse. I see him grab his sword, then jump for me. I have a second to plan my next move. I reach for my pocket knife, and begin to roll to my side. Blondy lands on top of me. But, I’ve already started twisting. I pull Blondy over, so I’m looking down on him. My knife pressing gently into his gut. It’s only then I feel cold steel on the front on my neck. I realise his sword is pressed against my throat. He smiles.
“Nicely done,” He smirks.
Suddenly I hear a door fly open. “Nicholas, what the hell is going on?” I turn and see a man lead a small group out of the society and towards us. He is dressed all in black, with the presence of someone important.
“He tried to steal my purse,” Blondy said, never taking his eyes on me. The man nods to the rest of the group. They soon have me and Blondy separated. They restrain me on the ground. The Man and Blondy standing over me. Blondy has his sword in striking distance.
“Now, Boy,” The man says, “Who are you?” I begin to tell him everything. There’s no point in lying. I’m being shipped of America, I’m done. Soon they know my name, why I’m here and my whole life story. Through the conversations I learn the Man’s is Walsingham, a minister in the court. Blondy’s name is Nicholas, and he is his protégé. So not America, I’m going up the Tyburn Tree. Walsingham turns to Nicholas, noticing the scar. “What happened?”
“Him,” He replies nodding to me. Walsingham turns back to me. He looks at me up and down. He calls the protégée into a huddle. They taIk for about ten minutes. I strain to hear what they’re saying, but with no luck.
Eventually they turn back to me. Walsingham steps closer to me.
“Mr. Cretcher,” He begins, “I believe you’re a sneak.”
“Yes,” I reply.
“A thief?” I look back at Nicholas.
“I dabble,” I respond. Nicholas smirks. Walsingham nods to his goons. They release me, as their boss extends his arm.
“I don’t think we’ve been formally introduce myself. I am Sir Francis Walsingham, the Secretary of State and Spymaster to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England and Ireland. Consider this an offer to train you up as an apprentice. I’ll provide food and lodgings, as long as your willing to put your skills to use for Queen and country. That is, if you’re interested of course.” I feel a smile creep across my face. Looks like sometimes dreams can come true after all, it just takes a bit of a fight.
“Yes, sir.” He gives me a warm, welcoming smile. I feel something new inside, a scene of belonging.