Small hands protected with rags stretched towards the fire, as close as they could handle a heat that pierced snow and cold and bone. To the left and right of him were other hands, even smaller, jostling against one another alongside chattering. It was only when a ruddy man in suspenders entered the courtyard that they stopped shoving. Over a dozen faces turned to meet his, one clad in a smile that seemed to personally meet every one of them.
He cupped a hand around his mouth. "Newes' of the playwrights! Newes' of the playwrights right 'ere!"
The man flicked through a motley stack of papers with a gloved thumb, taking a seat by one of the iron wrought benches at the edges. Within moments a flurry of children cut through the snowflakes to converge on him, most sitting on top of others or on the weathered stone ground when the handful of spaces were gone. Their shouts and laughter fell around the man in a jumble of noise.
The fire crackled behind them.
"Osric's been scribin' away real hard for this one. Took'em a good eight tries to get it right. And oh boy, did he ever." He separated the papers into smaller stacks. The oldest received theirs first. "If you can't read, ask someone to help. Start off with your finger, say it out loud, it's the season for that sort of thinkin', it is." He stood back up with some effort, handing the last of the papers to the smaller children. They scampered off back into their old groups, and he let out a sigh. Until he turned around.
Another child. Or adolescent, he was nearing that age. Easily the oldest out of the group, hands in his pockets, trudging back to the fire.
"You. You're Ophelia's brother, correct?"
The boy's shoulders sagged upwards in a shrug. "We arrived at the home at the same time, so that's just what we call each other." The word had no weight to him nor any of them for that matter. Even their names were assigned to them on the spot. His dark eyes rose to meet the man's, and to the boy's surprise his smile was gone. In its place was a tight-lipped frown that was almost unsettling in between rosy cheeks and and a graying beard.
"Tell 'er she's not welcome scribin' anymore. Waste of perfectly good paper, it is. We'll find some'un else." And with that, the man left, leather boots gnashing against snow and stone.
The boy said nothing, not that he was able to do anything else. He resumed his gait, approaching a pair of girls that were audibly struggling to tell some of the letters apart. His index finger joined theirs.
REISINGER ORPHANAGE PRESENTS
THE TRAGEDIE OF MACBETH
"It is still callous to not share your whereabouts. For a representative of that being to be caught engaging in petty thievery would be disastrous."
Octavio ignored the familiar and opened another set of drawers, finding no apparel worth caring about. He plucked a gaudy strip of cloth and draped it to the wooden mannequin next to him, life-sized and held together through metal rods. It was an effortful piece of craftmanship. "You just have to think about it. The weather's getting colder and the clothes in this vacation villa are clearly for sunnier temperatures. We could live here for most of the year if we were clever about it," He chuckled. He gazed at their reflections from the mirror in center of the room, only noticing the enormous blur on his left when it was too late.
The girl wiped at the swollen bags under her eyes with one hand.
"I made it better, you know. But they don't see it that way."
They were the same age, wearing similar sets of rags. The two sat on a bench far away from the fire. Various sheets of paper were spread across their laps, all of them covered in thick blots of oil. Above and around the blots were sentences of different sizes and coherence, with arrows that meant to show an order but only disorganized the words further.
"The ending changed completely." There was no tone to his voice.
"It did." A short sniffle interrupted. "It's such a sad story. I mean, all this betrayal, madness, violence, and they die at the end so tragically. I don't want to tell stories like that, Julius." There's another pause to her words, and for a moment she's lost in thought. "You're still Julius, right?"
The boy nods. "It's the seventh name I've taken on. It feels lucky to hold on to it." For as long as they've known each other, however, he knows she's never parted from hers. He gathered the papers and organized them to the best of his ability, finally handing them to her. "Sometimes life is a tragedy. No point in ignoring that, or making any strange changes to a play. He stood up and left the courtyard.
Hands protected by rags searched for heat, and found it around Octavio's neck. In what felt like moments he was grappled by a pair of arms, struggling to find a way out. Lynx tossed his own body towards the assailant in a rough maneuver meant to trip them up. For a moment nothing could be heard save for a desperate man's increasingly harsh grunts, but a new sound joined the scuffle. The wooden mannequin, now unhooked from its display pole, slamming wooden nubs for feet and hands against floor and foe.
After a handful of strained breaths Octavio's heel found purchase on the ledge of a drawer. With one last wheeze he drove the weight of his body on it and wheeled upwards, nearly leaving his body completely horizontal until gravity fought back. But it had been a part of his plan, and the four crashed to the ground in a pile of limbs from using himself as a human domino. The chaos gave him the opportunity to slip free from the attacker's grasp. A dagger made its way from a hidden compartment in Octavio's clothing to his hand to the gap in the opponent's armor that would have revealed a neck. It wasn't until the hilt clanged against metal that his eyes widened.
"There's nothing underneath."
He scrambled upwards and backwards, his back pressing against a wall.
"...a knight illusion whose armor made no noise. The only person I've met who uses a style of illusions such as that..."
His gaze remained on the empty suit of armor, locked in the grapple of the wooden mannequin illusion pinned beneath it.