Walking by Starlight

For the prompt “night walks” and “medieval fantasy.”

Aspen preferred nighttime in the city. It was his preference to go unseen and unnoticed, which was far easier in a crowd than in a small town. He was from a small town, originally, with a petty lord and small town problems – village officials who stole small amounts from their town’s coffers, rather than wandering off after larger prey. Their motivation, he supposed, was an aversion to risk, and was not an aversion he shared. Aspen preferred risk.

He did not share as much risk by night as a woman might have, wending her way home through the torchlit streets. He had been mistaken for a girl one dark night on an unpleasantly memorable occasion, though his own particular talents had lent themselves to escape and a quiet certainty he was never taking that road home again. He’d been younger then. Today, perhaps, he would be more proactive.

Aspen eyed his fellow travelers, with their mix of local and foreign looks, their packages and their donkeys. One, a woman, met his eyes with a direct glower and her hand on her purse. Well, she wasn’t wrong, for all he wasn’t working yet tonight. Nothing was gained by engaging her, so he turned his head, a trick that worked on street vendors as well as those with the instincts to spot a thief. She passed him, rust-colored skirts held out of the mud with one hand, hair covered with a pale blue scarf. For a moment he wanted to say something, just one word, to bring himself closer to this sea of strangers. What would he say? His pace picked up, the soft soles of his shoes shhhing against the cobbles. Hello. Good evening. Lovely stars tonight, aren’t they? Nice big moon.

The moon was indeed bright and the stars were particularly clear, with no clouds to obscure either. Bad weather for his work.

Eyes on the sky, Aspen was startled by a jostle, as a young – yes, female pickpocket, if he wasn’t mistaken – ran into him artfully. Her hands ghosted over his clothing almost imperceptibly, and came away empty. She apologized, and Aspen summoned up a smile from somewhere. He was, he thought, in an odd mood tonight.

“Quite alright,” he said, his own voice sounding alien to his ears. His mood, he decided, was fae, or perhaps silly. He was not so alone as all that. Not really.

The young pickpocket shrugged, and he stepped around her to move on. He glanced backward, to catch her foot, the last of her, disappearing into an even darker alley. No torches to illuminate the way there. She’d be lucky to avoid a bigger fish. Had he begun to look so prosperous he was prey as well as predator?

He shook his head, and aimed himself for the next dark alley. From there, it was a matter of minutes to climb the crumbling brick wall, covered in equally crumbling dauls of tan clay, and reach the tiled roof. He’d take the high road the rest of the way. He was sick to death of not dealing with people.