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Foundlings

Protagonist: Claire/Brellin

Companion: Smidge

Antagonist: Thaddeus Hoardwell

Claire woke with a start as the banging on the weathered door of the orphanage she called
home continued. She quietly climbed from bed, noticing that the other children were still sound asleep,
and tiptoed to the door, pushing it open just enough to slip out, avoiding the creaking hinge (a talent
she’d learned well over the years). Padding quietly to the banister she peered down just in time to see
Auntie hobbling to the door, her cane thumping along the floor. She had only managed to get the heavy
door opened when it was pushed open by a well-dressed older man with a large belly and a bushy
handlebar mustache, followed closely by two rotund officers. The man wrinkled his nose, which he kept
stuck in the air as he looked around the dim and meager orphanage, adjusting the silver rimmed glasses
he wore. What a cod… Claire thought.

“M…m…Mr. Hoardwell! What a surprise… I” Auntie was cut off as Mr. Hoardwell waved a hand
dismissively.

“I do not have time for this, woman. Your rent is late. Again.” Claire noted he had a high pitched,
cruel pitch to his voice.

“I am sorry, Mr. Hoardwell, really. It’s jus’ that food prices have gone up again and the children,
they had to eat and…” though she was talking in a rush she was cut off again.

“Excuses, excuses! This is the third time you’ve been late in almost as many months. I simply
cannot stand for this, I am sorry, but you have left me no choice.” He nodded at the officers, who moved
to grab Auntie by the arms.

She fell to her knees in front of Mr. Hoardwell, tears wetting her face, gripping the hem of his
coat “No Sir, please. Please, you can’t! What about the children!”

Thaddeus Hoardwell sniffed and brushed her hand off his coat “What matter is it to me what
happens to the little wretches? They can contribute to this society like the rest of us, or they can starve,
it is of no never mind to me. You are going to debtors’ prison. They will scurry like the little rats they are
when my men come tomorrow to reclaim this hovel.” The cops roughly picked Auntie off the floor and
dragged her out the door, Thaddeus following quickly behind, not bothering to shut the door behind
him.

Claire stood frozen to the spot for several long moments, trying to decide what to do. Quietly
she moved back to the bedroom she shared with the other girls before turning around. Her eyes fell
over beds filled with children all younger than her. She and Brellin, her twin brother, had been in the
orphanage for 10 years already, their mother had passed when they were 5, and she barely
remembered her life before that. No one knew who their father was, so they were sent to live with
Auntie. No one had ever come to claim them, they were never adopted out; so, they had stayed. The
older they became, the more they had started helping Auntie out, doing small chores around town,
fetching food, watching out for the younger children. Now Auntie was gone, what were they going to
do? She closed her eyes briefly, holding back hot tears of anger and fear before making her way back to
her bed, where she sat thinking hard.

She had never seen Thaddeus Hoardwell before, but she knew who he was. The whole town did.
He was the wealthiest person in town, owned the factory (the only real place to work) and was in
control of pretty much everything. He was the reason pretty much everyone was just barely scraping by,
and food was in such short supply, while he sat up in his fat-cat mansion on the hill overlooking town
getting fatter. And now he is taking their home from them. They had to do something. They had to help
the kids, sure there were a couple of them that were probably old enough to find jobs in the factory, but
the rest of them couldn’t fend for themselves. They would be out on the streets and wouldn’t last long.
It’s not like anyone in town would be able to help them out when they could barely feed their own
families.

Claire was brought out of her thoughts with a jolt of surprise by the feeling of a tiny nose
nudging her bare foot. She looked down, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth, despite her
worries as she saw Smidge, her little rat friend. She wouldn’t dare call him a pet, he was free to come
and go as he pleased, but he always came back to her. She had rescued him from an alley cat as a pup
when she came across the cat tearing apart his nest. Smidge had been the only one of his litter to
survive, and Claire couldn’t bear to leave him, so she smuggled him back to the orphanage in her apron
pocket, where he had spent most of the days of his young life sleeping, venturing out at night to explore.
She would sneak him bits of food and judging by the size of him now had done an excellent job of raising
him. He looked up at her nose twitching and gave a little squeak. It seemed to make something click for
Claire. She reached out and scratched Smidge’s head softly and then offered her hand for him to climb
onto her shoulder.

She quietly got out of bed and padded across the hall to the boys’ room. She reached out to
open the door just in time for her brother to pull it open himself. “Wotcher, Claire! What happened,
where’s Auntie?” Claire gestured to him to keep his voice down and pulled him down the hall, away
from the bedrooms. She took a few moments to explain what she had heard and seen.

“We gotta do somethin’, Brel. We can’t stay ‘ere after today an’ the tots gotta have food and
someplace ter sleep. An’ poor Auntie… Ain’t right Hoardwell treats e’ryone like dirt. We gotta stop ‘im.”

Brellin nodded “Not like we can go ta the mutton shunters, they been workin for Hoardwell fer
ages now. Bet they didn’ even blink draggin poor Auntie off like that…” Claire nodded sadly and sighed
“Someone should stay with the runts, but t’other needs ta find us someplace else ta stay. Probably best
we keep movin’ ev’r so often. And we need ter eat… and money…” Claire nodded in agreement again
before speaking.

“I’ll do it, Brel. Ya know yer leg ain’t all that good,” Brellin had been in an accident with a cart
when he was younger and had a limp, it wasn’t bad but it was bad enough to slow him down and likely
make sneaking around more difficult, “Ye stay with them, I’ll go out and see what I can find.” Smidge
squeaked loudly from her shoulder “’Course yer gonna come wit’ me, Smidge.”

Brellin frowned slightly but didn’t argue. “Alrigh’, I’ll get ‘em fed and stuff, keep ‘em busy while
yer out. We’re gonna have ta tell ‘em what happened, they won’t unnerstan’ else wise. I think we still
‘ave some porridge left. Ya should eat ‘fore you go. But head out ‘fore the little ‘uns wake, else yer
gonna get stuck here ya know ‘ow they can be.”

Claire nodded an agreement and then hugged her brother, Smidge tickling his face with his
whiskers, before slipping back into her room to change into her clothes. She then headed down to the
kitchen and fixed herself a light breakfast, looking around the kitchen with a sigh. She was absently
feeding Smidge bits of gruel when suddenly her eyes fell on a small crack in the corner of the wall. She
narrowed her eyes at it and moved closer. Judging from where it was it lead into the storage cupboard,
that Auntie usually kept locked, as that’s where the few valuable items they had were stored. She
reached a hand up and guided Smidge to the crack, “Whaddya say, Smidge. Wanna give it a go? See if ye
can find anything useful in there for us?” Smidge squeaked, whiskers twitching, as his bright eyes looked
up at her before he scurried off into the crack.

Claire pulled a stool up and sat, picking at her breakfast while she waited for Smidge to come
back. After what felt like an eternity Smidge returned with everything he had found. Claire smiled softly
down at him “That’ll do just fine, Smidge.” She sat down the bowl in front of him and allowed him to get
his fill while she absently scratched his head. “I ‘spose we should head out. We gotta find some’re we
can all sleep for the night. An’ we’ll need food n’such…” Claire picked up the bowl, and took one last
look around the house, searching the other rooms quietly for anything else that could be useful for
them.

Brellin met her at the door as she was readying to leave “Watch yerself, ya? Don’t let those
rotten Mutton Shunters catch ya, an’ come back afore too late.” Claire hugged her brother and nodded
“I’ll be back in time and help you herd the little ‘uns to a new place to sleep. You get everything you can
‘re packed up.” Brellin agreed and ushered her out the door, both trying to keep a brave face.

As Claire and Smidge left, she ran into a friend who had lived in the orphanage until last year,
when they became old enough to go work in the Factories and moved out to the workhouse. She spent
a few moments explaining what was happening he nodded sympathetically.

“Ey, Claire, there ain’t a ‘ole lot I can do to ‘elp. But look, I found a decent area you could get
into to sleep fer a few nights. Lost the key to it though in the streets ‘round ‘ere som’ere. If ye can find
it, the place is all yers. Ain’t much, but its safe…”

Claire thanked him and then she and Smidge spent the day searching the poor district for food
and items that had been dropped by Hoardwell and his men. Most of the food was on the verge of being
rotten, and the items were tattered and ancient, but it was better than nothing. They had to avoid the
police that were under Hoardwell’s pay, else they’d wind up in jail just the same as Auntie. Claire kept
her eyes peeled for the key, and toward the evening finally found it.

They headed back to the orphanage, pockets bulging with the day’s finds. She opened the door
to find Brellin and the other children waiting, blankets wrapped around bundles of food, pillows and
other supplies. They were going to take everything they could with them. Claire sighed softly as she took
one last look around the old house that had been her home for so many years. It was had fallen into a
bit of disrepair over the last few years, as Auntie had gotten older and money had become tighter. But
Auntie had done her best to always make it feel warm and inviting. It wasn’t much, but it was home, and
she had many happy memories here.
She explained to Brellin and the others where they would be staying and then helped bundle the
younger children up, grabbed a bundle of blankets and ushered the children out the door, shutting it
behind them, looking back only once as they trudged down the street.

The next few days went much the same as the one before, Claire would go searching for food
and items, Brellin stayed behind to care for the children and try and sell the items Claire found in order
to make them money.

Claire would occasionally run into other friends that would point her in the direction of a new
key to find, allowing them to keep moving every few days, never staying in one place too long. It was
much feared that the Mutton Shunters would find them. The more money they made and the more
food they found the more of a target that made them.

They were able to move into nicer and nicer areas of town, but this was starting to garner the
attention of Hoardwell and his horde.

“Those wretched runts think they can outsmart me. Should have had them arrested when we
took that old woman.” Hoardwell was pacing back and forth in his office, hands grasped behind his back,
giant mustache twitching in annoyance. He stopped and faced the Chief of Police “Find that girl. Have
her lead you to the other brats and bring them in. They have been making a mockery of my authority for
long enough! I’ll not have them running amok in my town!” He slammed his fist down on his desk,
causing the Police chief to jump slightly, but he nodded curtly and left.

Wanted posters began to appear around the village for her and Brellin, more and more people
started to become aware of what they were trying to accomplish. Someone was finally going to try and
take down Hoardwell and bring the town back to its peaceful prosperity. Many people were eager to
help, and Claire started finding more and better caches of supplies. However, she also had to be vigilant
for those few who were still under Hoardwell’s thumb.

One day Claire stepped into the best part of town and as she was searching for supplies, she
came across a large wrought iron gate leading up to an old mansion. There was a deed of sale on the
gate, Claire knew that the old man that had lived there before had passed a few months before. The
bank must have been having trouble finding someone who had the money to purchase it, most of the
town had been run to ruin by Hoardwell and his price gouging already. Brellin and Claire had been
careful with the money they were finding, they were intent on finding a way to take Hoardwell down,
and knew the only way was to fight fire with fire. She stared at the sign for a long moment, realizing
they had more than enough money for this place…. And it was wonderful, large enough for all the kids,
space for their own garden, room to play. She was tired of them having to live on the streets and in
dilapidated, abandoned hovels. They deserved better. And, what’s more…. This home was right in the
shadow of the hill Hoardwell’s giant mansion sat on. It was perfect.

Claire went to the bank and, luckily enough, the manager was sympathetic to their plight, and
more than willing to help. Hoardwell had been destroying the whole town, no one had money to even
store in the bank anymore. Their vaults were practically empty. Much longer and they’d have to shut
their doors themselves. He handed the deed and keys over to Claire and wished her luck in finally taking
down the evil up on the hill.

That evening Claire happily showed the children and Brellin where they would be staying. And
they set up their stage for the final show down. They spent the next few days making plans and
organizing everything they needed until Claire finally thought she and Smidge were ready.

Early one morning they headed up the hill to Hoardwell’s mansion, finding their way over his
gate, through his yard and into his mansion. She searched for his office before finally confronting him.

When the final showdown was over, and Hoardwell admitted defeat Claire and the children
spread the word through the streets. It was like a great fog of despair lifted.