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It was late in the day when the boy came in and, even though I didn't think he was there to take anything, I kept an eye on him. He didn't appear to be much older than around nine, so it was unusual to see him in a jewelry shop but it being unusual didn't automatically make it suspicious. Normally if a child came in looking for a present for a parent they would be with the other one, if there was one. From the tiredness in his eyes I didn't think there was. As I'd been brought up by my father, after Mother died giving birth to my younger sister, I knew exactly what it was like to be in that position. Even before I was old enough to look after myself I was doing everything I could to help with my sister, and the chores, because Father was working to provide for us and came in shattered every night.Author's Notes
Finally he made his way over to the counter. Our eyes met and I could see the same emotions that I felt back then. "Good evening," I said, managing to keep my voice even. "Can I help you?"
He bit his bottom lip, something he seemed to have a habit of doing considering how damaged it was. "Yes and no," he replied, looking unsure of himself. "I think you're much more likely to tell me to go away than you are to help me, the same way the other jewellers have. This is something I really want to do, though, so I'm going to keep trying." That was when I noticed he had something in his hand, because he lifted it to put whatever it was on the counter, and I was more than a little surprised to see what looked to be a number of broken tokens there. "My father died and it's just been us since then: my mother, my three older sisters, and me. He always told me if something happened to him I was the man of the house, but it's not that simple. We've done our best to survive, even though it's been difficult, and I've been wanting to buy a treat for my mother for months. I just didn't know how to do it.
"Maybe I shouldn't have, but I found myself picking up broken tokens whenever I found them, because there are so many people who don't want to spend their time redeeming them. I can understand if you're one of those people." He glanced around the shop. "I can see your job being very time consuming. Your work is beautiful."
"Thank you." I looked at the boy and then at the tokens. "Normally I would tell you to leave the shop, but you've been lucky today. I've been there myself and I'm willing to help you with this treat you're looking for. All of these are pairs?"
"I promise you they are. I checked myself, multiple times, and any that didn't quite fit together I left at home, because they obviously had a piece missing."
"You can still get them redeemed." I wasn't really thinking as I was talking, focusing instead on the tokens as I tried to work out what he could buy with them. "This is more than enough for a necklace and I'll throw you in a nice bracelet too, if you can decide what you want." I looked at him. "Bring me the others and I'll get them redeemed for you at the same time as these." I found myself wondering if I could help the family out more, having been through all that pain myself, because even the Empire couldn't plan for everything. "Whenever you have a free couple of hours you could always pop by, because it always helps to have someone here to clean up when I'm busy."
I smiled at him. "Really. You got unlucky, it's not your fault, and now I'm in the position to help someone like you out that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Looking relieved, he smiled back, but it quickly faded. "Are you certain? I know how much a license costs and..." He looked down at himself. "I'm not the sort of person most people would use one for."
"No, you're not, but I'm not most people." I studied him. "Would it make you feel better if you paid for it yourself? You can work at half pay until you have."
The relief reappeared. "Yes, it would." The boy held his hand out. "I'm Edeflaar, but I prefer Ed."
We shook. "It's nice to meet you, Ed. I'm Flavai."
Written for the April 2014 Muse Fusion.