March is my birthday month, and so this month I thought it was only fitting to write about the character in the Crew who is most like me personality-wise, Knowles. Content warning for usual policing nonsense, but no violence or corruption.
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“Let me go,” the child said, struggling mid-air, throwing punches in vain.
Knowles rolled their eyes. They were holding up the child by their vest, which was the only piece of clothing Knowles was certain was sturdy enough to hold the kid’s weight. They were ragged and dirty and looked like every kid Knowles had known growing up. “This is what happens when you steal.”
“No it ain’t,” the kid spat. “This is what happens when you get caught.”
Knowles had to concede this point. “And what do you think happens next?”
The child stopped their struggling, face falling. Their expression wasn’t even anger or petulance, it was…resignation.
It was the saddest thing Knowles had ever seen.
They sighed. Being a guard was supposed to make things easier, but the work was thankless. The people from their old neighborhood understood why they did it, but those people also didn’t talk to Knowles anymore. Of all the calculations that had gone into this decision, Knowles had forgotten to account for how much the guard was disliked. Turned out that Knowles was not past caring about such things, even when they were past caring about so much else.
“Look,” Knowles said to the kid suspended in their hand, “why were you stealing bread?”
“Why do you think, guard, I’m hungry,” the kid growled.
“Right, you’re coming with me.”
The kitchen had given Knowles an extra bowl of thick, hearty stew without question. The stew came from the king, and the king always had food to spare. The child’s resignation had turned into bewilderment when, rather than being tossed into the cell in the corner of the guardhouse, they were sat down on a bench and given something to eat. And they ate, furiously, without so much as a thank you.
Knowles puttered around the guardhouse for a few minutes, straightening things, tidying up, watching the kid out of the corner of their eye. After a bit, they settled on the bench too, far enough away to give the kid the security of distance, and started picking the mud out of their boots with a knife.
“What is this?”
Knowles looked up to find Captain Brindle, pointing one long finger at the kid. The kid, for their part, was frozen, spoon suspended in mid-air. Everyone knew about Captain Brindle, the ruthless watchdog for the king.
Knowles stood up without much urgency, falling into a respectful posture with ease. Captain Brindle didn’t bother them. She was terribly predictable. “Just a stray I picked up, Captain. Thought I’d give them a meal.”
Captain Brindle would try a power play next. Knowles watched their statement click into place in her head, followed by a deepening scorn. She was highborn, and had little sympathy for her peers and none for those she considered below her. She stepped forward, standing too close to Knowles. Power play. “Does this look like a poorhouse, Knowles?”
“No, ma’am,” Knowles said, and didn’t add that the dinged-up armor most of them wore could have fooled them.
“How about a debtor’s prison, does it look like one of those?” She took another step closer.
Knowles didn’t budge, except to blink slowly. “No, Captain.”
She leaned in. “Then get this street garbage out of my guardhouse.”
Knowles stood their ground. “Yes, Captain.”
She stared at them a little longer, waiting for them to break, and then seemed disappointed when they didn’t. With whatever dignity she thought she had, she whirled out of the room, muttering something under her breath about new recruits.
Carefully, Knowles wiped the spit off their face. “You can finish your stew, kid. She won’t be back for a few more minutes.”
The child shoved the still-suspended spoon into their mouth and swallowed it immediately. “Then what?”
“What do you mean?” Knowles said, sitting back down on the bench.
“What are you gonna do to me once I finish this?”
Knowles shrugged. “You heard the captain. You’re free to go.”
The kid revealed the tiniest, crookedest smile Knowles had ever seen before shoveling the next bite into their mouth.
Knowles proceeded with leisure down the street. They didn’t spend a lot of time here anymore. It was just a block over from the flea trap where they’d grown up. Most of the shops and booths had changed over. They wondered, idly, who had died and who had just left.
They arrived at their destination, a bookseller’s stall, and stopped to peruse. The bookseller saw their armor and the stripes painted on it first, and said, “Sergeant.”
“Morning,” Knowles said, taking a book off one of the shelves and flipping through it.
“Oh, it’s you.”
Knowles looked up at the bookseller. They had a small, crooked smile, which rang a bell… “Have we met?”
“You probably wouldn’t remember,” the bookseller said. “It was years ago. But you caught me stealing and gave me something to eat.”
Knowles had done that a few times, but the first time did tend to stick in one’s head, didn’t it? Which of course made what they were about to do all the worse. They put the book back. “I do remember.”
“You know, I looked you up after that day,” the bookseller said. “You grew up not far from here, didn’t you? It was Teric, right?”
Knowles tried not to draw back in revulsion. Their mother was the last person who’d called them that. It had been years since the name had even been spoken. They swallowed. “That’s right.”
“Back home for a visit?”
“Not exactly.” Without much ado, Knowles rested their hand on their sword, hanging at their side. “I’m here about some reported counterfeiting.”
The crooked little smile disappeared off the bookseller’s face. They licked their lips, suddenly nervous. Knowles waited.
“I heard you grew up in the same tenement as my cousins did,” they said finally. “Heard that your whole family died. Everyone. Mother. Siblings. A twin, even.”
Knowles swallowed back whatever reaction was trying to come out of their throat. This wasn’t the time.
“So you remember what it’s like,” the bookseller went on. “You must remember. I mean, you know what it’s like to be hungry. Or else you wouldn’t have helped me, years ago.”
“I remember,” Knowles said quietly. “But the law’s the law.”
The bookseller’s expression hardened. Now they resembled the child they once were, struggling mid-air in Knowles grip. Furious, petulant. But not resigned. “What do you want from me?”
“We just have some questions, to start.”
The bookseller nodded. “Do you mind if I grab my coat?”
“Of course not.”
“It’s just back here.” They slid aside the curtain at the back of the booth and slipped behind it.
Knowles waited. Odds were the bookseller wasn’t getting their coat…
And there they went, fast footsteps taking off; Knowles caught glimpses of them disappearing behind the other booths.
And Knowles started counting down from five. Because for someone from the old neighborhood, for someone who had already been through so much, the least they could do was try and even out the odds.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.