To hear about the numerous bastard orphans wandering the streets was one thing, but to have one in front of you… that was different. The Hammerites advertised them as weak little lost things that only needed a home and the Light of the Builder to become good, God-fearing citizens. To his private shame, Artemus had bought into the ‘weak and lost’ bit… but that was before he met Garrett. To think that the awkward adolescent he had practically raised was now the invisible master of shadows nearly made Artemus crack a smile. Nearly.
Garrett had always been an odd one, even as a boy. It seemed ironic to think of how he turned out. Among the Keepers he had stuck out like a sore thumb, with his rough ‘gutter’ accent, sharp tongue, and the street slang that his instructors had tried in vain to erase from his vocabulary. He had been small even then, but was still all gangly arms and legs, and had sharp features that belonged to someone twice his age. To think of him as weak was laughable.
He had been so young, only eleven or twelve at the oldest. When Artemus initially asked Garrett his age the boy immediately said he was fifteen. It was a very smooth, very practiced lie. When Artemus asked him again he actually flushed a little and said he didn’t know exactly. Artemus didn’t even bother with asking if he knew his surname or who his parents were. The Keeper record simply noted him as “Garrett Brown, age 12”, but really it was anyone’s guess. After a while the invented surname faded to little more than the ink on his record, and after he left, it mattered not all.
Internally Artemus winced and wished the boy could at least pretend to be sorry, but no, that would make too much sense. There he stood, meeting the harsh glare Keeper Orland was giving him, his jaw set in that infuriating scowl.
“Mister Brown,” Orland said, almost hissing through his clenched teeth, “We do realize your upbringing… that you have lived for the most part without supervision, but you must understand that theft will not be tolerated within our walls.”
“Then it’s not my fault, sir.” Garrett answered innocently.
“Pardon?”, Orland narrowed his eyes.
“Well, considerin’ my ‘upbringing’….”
“Young man, I will not tolerate sarcasm.”
“ I wasn’t being sarcastic, all I’m sayin’ is that I can’t help it, sir.”
“You will help it, Mister Brown. And you will mark my words when I say that your behavior had better improve or-“
“My behavior?” Uh-oh, thought Artemus, here it comes… “I’m not the one who was wavin’ his stupid little trinket around!”
“Do not try to pass the blame wholly onto Aloysius, young man.”
“He deserved it!” Garrett was nearly shrieking now, his gray eyes glittering with all the rage and indignation a twelve-year-old-boy could muster.
“That is enough, Garrett Brown!” Orland was angry too, but his was a quiet, infinitely more frightening angry. Any sensible child would have lowered their eyes in obedient shame, but Garrett wasn’t a sensible child, and he fixed Orland with a defiant stare. After a tense second or so (it seemed like an age to Artemus) of fiery glaring, Orland tore his eyes away from the boy and turned to Artemus, his anger reigned in but still apparent. “Keeper Artemus, as his mentor, I leave the matter of chastisement to you. I will see to Aloysius.” Artemus nodded impassively at his colleague and, taking Garrett firmly by the shoulder, steered the boy out of Orland’s office. He released him as soon as the door was closed behind them and started down the hall at a brisk walk, already knowing that Garrett would follow. As soon as they reached the privacy of Artemus’ own study, the Keeper held Garrett with an iron gaze.
“Well, I hope you gained something from that.” Artemus said stiffly.
“But it wasn’t my fault!”
“That will be discussed later. For now I want you to understand exactly what you have done.”, he continued, as though he hadn’t heard the boy. Garrett snorted.
“I know what I did, and-“
“I am fully aware of that” Artemus sighed and resisted the urge to massage his throbbing temples. “But you do not fully understand the implications of what you have done. Sit down.”
“So I pissed off that old-“
“Sit.” Garrett sat. Artemus himself took his own chair behind his desk. “Garrett…” He rested his fingertips on the desktop, and tried to find the correct words. “First of all I need you to tell me exactly what happened.”
“I took Aloysius’ little pendant thing and we got in a fight.” Garrett said huffily.
“No, what I mean is, please tell me what happened this morning as it happened to you. In your own words.” Artemus steepled his fingers and tried to look benevolent. Truth be told, he was as angry at his young charge as Orland was, but overt anger never solved anything. It was better to keep your balance as to assess the situation calmly.
“Well Aloysius has this pendant, an’ yesterday he was waving it around saying how valuable it was, an’ I asked if I could take a look, just so I could see the designs better and he said I couldn’t, an’ I asked why not and he said because…” here Garrett’s face darkened with remembered fury, “He said that I might get my street filth all over it.”
“I see.” Murmured Artemus, sympathizing a little with the boy. Aloysius Cossagen was a recruit from a wealthy family who’s head was an ally of the Keepers. Artemus had no opinion of Aloysius other than he had to be broken of his superiority complex. “So, then what happened?”
“Well, last night I snuck over to Aloysius’ room and took it.” Garrett smirked, feeling a bit proud of what he thought was a major accomplishment.
“Why?” Artemus inquired in his measured tones. Garrett furrowed his eyebrows. He hadn’t been expecting this. Why did he even ask, when the answer was clear enough. He did it because… well… why did he do it?
“I guess I thought it would make him think twice about making fun of me.”
“Garrett, you’ve been taking lessons with the same group as Aloysius for several weeks, yes?”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“He’s an idiot.” The boy snapped.
“Garrett…” Atremus warned. Garrett rolled his eyes.
“I mean he’s really loud” And you’re not? Thought Artemus, “and he’s always bossing the other students around and gets pissed off real easy.” Artemus decided to ignore the mild swearing for the moment and get to the point.
“Garrett, knowing this, how did you think Aloysius was going to react when he realized that his pendant was missing and when you told him, in no uncertain terms so I have heard, that you had stolen it? Did you think he would apologize for his rudeness?” Garrett dropped his gaze and his face went pink.
“The point is Garrett” Artemus stated, choosing his words carefully, “It’s not that you didn’t know, it’s that you didn’t think.” Garrett opened his mouth, probably to let loose some acid retort, but his mentor stopped him with a hand. “ You are a smart lad, Garrett, but you very rarely think about the consequences of your actions. Every action you take in life will have a reaction, and you need to decide if you can cope with that reaction. If you steal something, you must be aware that someone is going to be very angry. Then you must decide if it is really very wise to be engaging in theft at all, do you understand?” Artemus eyed the boy, trying to gauge his response, but Garrett’s eyes were closed off to his probing. In a rare show of deference, Garrett bowed his head and answered with a quiet ‘yes, sir’.
Later, Atremus sentenced Garrett to an afternoon of shoveling out the stables at the back of the compound. Garrett predictably groaned and balked, but it wasn’t his usual defiance that Artemus would look back on, years down the road. Rather, he would remember the strange look in Garrett’s eyes while he contemplated Artemus’ lecturing. It was stillness and a… coldness Artemus had never seen before. Almost like a hunter unfeelingly dressing his kill. In retrospect, he never would have guessed he’d be seeing that look more and more often as the boy called Garrett Brown grew into manhood.