Those Left Behind: Part Three
Else spent the next morning stealing as much as she thought she could manage safely, since she would be busy the rest of the day. Eventually she had a good stash saved up--fruits from the forest were great, but they weren't enough. Then she returned to the stage with the play she had seen the previous day. Technically you had to buy a ticket to get in, but it was an outdoor stage and no one cared about a brat standing far to one side of the seats, especially since there was already a small crowd there anyway. After the play was finished--it was just as good this time as it was last time--someone once again said the actors would come down to answer questions. Else headed over to the Ixi from the day before. She considered shoving herself to the front of the crowd, but thought better of it.
Eventually, the Ixi caught sight of her. "Oh hey, you did come. Wait over there for a bit, I'll come over when I'm done." She gestured toward the front row of seats, and Else sat down.
If life as a thief had taught her anything--aside from becoming a good actor--it was patience. She had never been caught, and had only been spotted stealing something a few times, because she learned to wait for the perfect moment. Sometimes it took just a few minutes to find a shop where everyone was looking away, sometimes it took an hour. She just learned to keep watch and wait. And so she waited, and after some time the Ixi came out once again. She looked different, and Else realized that she had been wearing heavy makeup when she was on stage.
"By the way, I'm Lamie," the Ixi said, extending a hoof.
Else considered her situation. She wondered if this was all a trap of some sort, but couldn't imagine how or why. But being a thief also taught her to be observant, and she thought she could get away if there was anything suspicious. "I'm Else," she answered, and shook Lamie's hoof.
"I'll show you around," Lamie said. She brought Else to some of the other actors, who were talking together. "Hey, this is the kid I was talking about." Else waved.
"So you want to be an actor?" one of them asked. Else nodded, and suddenly felt shy about being introduced to so many new people. "Great, have you done any acting before?"
Now that she needed to speak, she stammered. "I--sort of, yeah."
"What sort of acting?"
"Well, I...I pretend to be people."
"Oh, yeah? Like who?"
"Kinldor," Else said quietly. She knew she was mumbling, but couldn't do anything about it.
She took a deep breath--there was nothing to be scared about, after all. "King Altador."
People in the group muttered. Most of them were actors she recognized, but a few were other people. Maybe the ones who changed the sets between scenes.
"Can you show us?" Lamie asked.
"Uh," Else said. This sounded a lot like a test, meaning she needed to do it well. She took another breath. Closed her eyes. Remembered all the things she did when she pretended to be someone else--she did this all the time.
Ten minutes later, they were doubled over laughing at her Hubrid Nox impression.
"You know, I didn't think you could do it at first," Lamie told her, trying to stop giggling. "But you just calmed down and got right into the role. You'll make a really good actor with enough practice."
"I--thanks!" was all Else could manage to say. Then she added, "You said there were places I could go to try out?"
"Hm? Oh, right. Just a few small performances. I can show you around." Lamie paused briefly. "Where are your parents, anyway?"
Else suddenly felt a bit sick--if they knew she was a street rat and a thief, they probably wouldn't help her. Well, fast thinking was part of acting, wasn't it? "They're on a trip to Shenkuu," she lied.
"Then why are you still here?" Lamie asked.
"They--they said they didn't want me to come along," Else answered. It sounded like a weak answer. But several of the people in the group exchanged looks and grins, so apparently it worked.
"What will they think if you get a role in a play?"
Having grown up more or less on her own, this was something she had never considered before. "I think they'd be really happy to come and watch me." She realized after she said it that she wasn't thinking of her parents watching, but her friends.
"Well, that sounds good," Lamie said, clapping her hooves together and standing up. "Let's get going, shall we?"
Having spent most of her life outdoors, Else had to stop herself from staring. The funny thing was, there really wasn't that much to look at. In all those stories of a street rat getting thrust into a new life, they were taken to grand mansions and palaces and tall spires. The places Lamie took Else were mostly boring-looking buildings where people worked. She quickly learned what to do: she was given a booklet that had all the dialog in the play. She knew how to read, since she pretty much taught herself (and several other members of the gang) by stealing books. She and a bunch of other people stood in a line, and were called up to read different sections of the play.
It was awkward at first. Else was used to making up her own words, but she pretended to be people she knew about. Here, it was the opposite: she was given the words, but she didn't know about the characters. Still, she thought she did well. No one ever told her that she was going to get a certain role, but then again they didn't tell anyone else that either. She asked Lamie about this, who told her that she would find out in a few days.
Those few days passed by anxiously. Else chose not to tell the rest of the group what she had done, so that nobody would be disappointed if nothing happened. She met Lamie several days later to return to the places she had tried out.
Else scampered toward where the rest of the group was sitting, deep in the catacombs where people wouldn't be likely to search. Several pets jumped to their feet, startled by her sudden appearance and yelling, and ready to scamper if there was an emergency.
"I got in! I got in!"
When they realized she wasn't running away from something or trying to warn them about something, panic became confusion.
Else realized that she needed to slow down. She slowed her pace to a walk, lowered her voice, and tried to speak clearly.
"I...I got the lead part in a play."
The reaction was not quite what she wanted. Several members of the group looked happy, but many more looked nervous. She remembered the talk from several nights before. "It's okay, the play isn't going to happen for a while. And it's just one part, it's not like everyone will know who I am now. We'll perform for five nights in a row, but that's it. And you can all come watch it, because it's free."
This last part got people interested. Entertainment was hard to find down here, so any excuse to do something fun was great, as long as it was safe.
"So what's the play about?" asked Feld.
"It's about a young Cybunny living on the streets--that's me--who gets into a lot of trouble and challenges and eventually goes to live in a mansion."
For a group of street urchins living in the catacombs eating stolen food, this sounded like a dream come true. They spent the rest of the evening talking about what it would be like to move into a mansion and have people do everything for them.
Lamie looked up at the sky for a moment before looking back at Else. "Of course you do. Everyone does, even me. That's just how a play works." Lamie had gotten a part in the same play, and had taken Else under her hoof.
"But I..." Else caught herself before she said anything more. She still had to help her friends, and doing two things at once would be difficult. "I might not have the time."
"Then you need to give up the part, and they'll find someone else to take it. That'd be a shame, because you're good."
"Really?" Else looked up, wondering if the Ixi was just pitying her or if she was serious.
"Sure. It's clear you haven't acted much, but you can get better with practice."
"Well, I guess I can do it."
"Hey, that's not good enough. You need to know you can do it. The whole play is about you, so you need to hold up yourself and everyone else."
This sounded a lot like something from a book, but Else nodded.
Rehearsing turned out to be fun--it was another way for Else to do something she enjoyed doing, and the instruction she got turned out to be helpful. However, it was also tiring. She also had to continue stealing food and supplies, since every member of her group needed to contribute something. She realized this might be more dangerous now--since everyone who worked in the play now recognized her, she was constantly afraid of being noticed. It happened several times, and only her natural acting ability kept her from revealing her secret. On top of that, she had to practice her lines by herself, often after everyone else had gone to bed. She slowly started to lose sleep. But she was definitely getting better.
The rehearsals became more complex, and everyone slowly fell into their roles. They practiced for two months--summer was nearly over, and they would perform in a final festival spanning several days.
The play was a grand hit. Many people noticed Else's performance in particular, since no one knew who she was or where she had come from. She wanted to enjoy the attention, but she couldn't, because she still had her friends to consider. They all came for the first four plays, sitting near the back. At the finale, however, when Else looked into the crowd, she couldn't see any of them.
After the curtain call, she found out why.
They had once again been searching for Hephen's group in the woods. A scouting party of the Altadorian Royal Guard was just returning from doing the same. But instead of catching a gang of thieves, they found each other.
Several of Else's group had panicked and ran away, but were caught. Several others tried to attack to free their friends, they were also captured. One managed to escape and ran to the catacombs, but a soldier followed him and their hideout was discovered. The rest of the group was gathered up and taken into custody. The whole story was the talk of the city--people had noticed small thefts for years, but no one had ever found the culprits.
Lamie told the entire story to Else, who did her best to look calm. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
Else almost couldn't see because of panic. She wanted nothing more than to run away, but knew she shouldn't. She fell back on her best skill, since it had taken her this far. "Huh?"
"You dash off as soon as rehearsals are over. You head in a different direction each time, so I know you can't just be going home. On top of that, I've never seen your parents come here, even though you said they would want to see you perform."
"M-my parents just aren't back from their trip yet," Else answered, trying to sound as convincing as possible.
"You know, the thing about being an actor, you get really good at telling when other people are acting."
Trapped and with nowhere to go, Else decided to be honest. "Please... please don't tell anyone."
Lamie put an arm around her. "I won't, but you've got a choice to make. A tough choice. You know what it is?"
"I can tell the guard I'm one of them, or I can forget about them and live my own life."
"That's not how I would have said it, but yeah. Faeries know I couldn't have made that decision when I was a kid, so I hope you can."
Else's was distracted when she heard someone yelling her name. It was Feld.
"Else!" he cried. "The others--"
"I know, I just heard," she answered. "But you got away. What are you going to do?"
The Nimmo was panting heavily. Before saying anything, he looked up suspiciously at Lamie, who walked away while looking like she had found something very interesting on the ceiling.
"I'm going into the woods," he said quietly between pants. I think I can survive there. And I still want to find Hephen."
Else thought about saying something about searching in the woods for an outlaw, but decided not to. She had already said everything she could.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
For a moment, Else was sure he would say yes.
"No. Stay here, keep doing this. People love you, you really could become famous. Maybe one day we'll see each other again."
And he was gone.
"Lamie took me in until I started earning enough money to support myself. I went on to play a lot of parts over the years, but I always had to keep my past a secret."
"What happened to all the other children who were captured?" Lapnir asked.
"When people found out that so many children had slipped through the cracks of the system for so long, there was a public outcry," Else answered. "King Altador took them all in as wards of the state until they could begin working as servants and guards." I noted the vocabulary she used, and decided she might not be a ditz after all.
"And what about Feld?" Haldan asked. I was a bit surprised that she, of all of us, would ask the question.
The Cybunny shrugged. "I don't know. That's why I came on this trip, I hoped I could find him. But unless Lapnir knows him..."
Lapnir shook his head. "I didn't know most of the younger members of the band very well, but I don't think I ever met him. I'm sorry."
Else sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. That sort of makes me coming along pointless--"
"But don't give up hope!" Lapnir added, thumping the floor with his tail. "You never know what might have happened after the group split up. Maybe Hephen found him after the rest of us had sailed on."
She smiled. She knew it probably wasn't true, but seemed to appreciate the encouragement anyway. I said nothing.
To be continued...