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The Iron Bank of Braavos

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Liam sat in the shadows, hidden in a dark corner of the building. He and his golden Pegasus, Po, were staking out a little shop, hoping to take it for their dinner. Liam was young, and he had lost his parents long ago. No job he tried to do paid enough to support him, so he soon found himself having to turn to common thievery to survive. He spent every day in Braavos, robbing and stealing, and thinking himself horrible for having to do it. Even in the orphanage he had managed to hold onto his moral compass, and so he spent most of his time thinking about his mother and father, and their simple, honest ways. How he was, to have strayed so far from the good side of the tracks. His greatest fear, right then, was that his parents would be disappointed in him, so he dedicated himself to doing good as often as he could. A little something in him hoped that he would be able to balance out the bad. that way.

The bakery in front of him had just opened, and the aromas rising from the door were as sweet as they were tantalizing. Liam knew, though, that it wasn’t the kind of place he could enter. He needed to stick to smaller stores, ones that he could hide in unnoticed. The food here was expensive, and pinching it was certain to get him noticed. As he stood staring at the door and dreaming of his dinner, a scruffy-looking man hurried inside with a small bundle of sticks. A dog followed closely behind his master, sniffing around curiously as it made its way to the back of the shop. The man entered the back of the shop and closed the door behind him, and Liam wondered what it was like to live among al the cakes and breads, eating your fill whenever you pleased.

Sighing, he slipped onto the back of his Pegasus and flew off. That night, he would dine on a bushel of apples he’d managed to steal from a farmers field, and his dreams would drift away from his current troubles. Curled up against Po’s side, he dreamed of better days, and days he hoped would come. There, in the dreamscape, he didn’t have to cause other people any problems by stealing from them. He could just exist, happy as anything, eat warm bread, and fly around on Po without a single worry.

“Po” was an old nickname he had given to Pegasus, after the main character in “The Little Beggar Boy”, a book that had always held a special place in his heart. It was one of the last stories his parents had ever read him before they died, and he had tried to keep it with him ever since. Escaping the orphanage (an ordeal all on it’s own), and coming into a new land where everything was strange to him, he’d always found comfort in the book and its story. It was like, as the years went by, the words in it became more and more relevant.

That morning, he awoke with new fervor. His dreams had been the same that that they always had, but something was new. Something was different about him today. He was no longer satisfied with lying low, avoiding the gaze of others like the invisible wraith he was. He wanted to be more proactive; he wanted to take an active role in the world around him and stop being a bystander. He deserved more, deserved a sort of happiness that he had been denying himself ever since he’d first come to live on the streets.

“You can’t just hide from life,” he told himself. He needed to take it back, his happiness, and it all began with that piece of bread. Sneaking back over to the bakery, he watched as the same scruffy man from before bustled around inside, little dog at his heels.

He watched as the man grabbed a loaf of bread and a handful of cookies, then turned and threw them into a paper bag for the customer he was serving. The man stopped for a moment and wiped sweat from his brow with the back of a flour dusted hand, leaving a smudge of white on his forehead. Liam could feel his mouth watering at the thought of the bread, and, taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the bakery.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” the man replied, not really turning to look. He was busy in the back, slicing up a loaf. As Liam waited for his attention, he looked around the shop, trying to gauge what pastry would be the easiest to shove in his pocket. He would o it right then if he could, but he didn’t want to risk the man turning around and seeing him. So instead he looked around at the pastries in the case in front of him and decided on a raspberry scone, and maybe a muffin too if he managed to pocket one without the man’s noticing.

The man seemed to feel his presence, still waiting to be acknowledged. “Can I help you?” he asked, not bothering to look up from his task. Liam took a breath.

“I’m trying to decide what to get for my mother. She’s sick, see, and I thought a nice pastry might cheer her up.”

The man scooped the bread he had been cutting into his hands, and poured the little cubes into a basket on the counter labeled “samples”. Without missing a beat, Liam grabbed one. He could tell the man was already suspicious of him, a scrawny young boy who looked like he hadn’t had a bath in days.

“Do you have anything with raspberry in it?” Liam asked, hoping to change the subject. “My mother loves raspberry.”

“Scones.” the scruffy man replied, pointing. Then, with a squint, he turned and went to work again, kneading some dough that he had resting on the countertop. As soon as he turned around, Liam knew that this was his chance. He darted his hand out toward the basket, grabbed two scones, and shoved them in his pocket as quickly as he could. He looked over at the man, but he didn’t seem to have noticed. He was too busy working. With a sigh of relief, Liam turned to leave.

 

Suddenly, he heard a growl from beside him. Turning slowly, he saw the little dog, teeth bared and nose pointed directly toward his pocket. Before he could even blink, the dog was barking loudly as anything, and soon the scruffy man had him by the arm and was wrenching the scones away, eyebrows knit in a quiet fury.

“I-” Liam began. But before he could say another word, the man had hold of him again and threw him down on the ground in front of him. The pandemonium that followed was a blur to him at first. The dog kept barking furiously as the police showed up, wrenching him away while the scruffy man kept shouting obscenities at him the entire time. He was dragged down the street, carted into the jail and pulled down the hallway to the nearest empty cell. There was clanging and shouting from the adjacent ones, and men in other cells leered at him from between the metal bars. Finally, he was tossed into the cell, the door locked shut behind him, and Liam could hear nothing but the sound of his own heartbeat pounding inside his head as he stared into the black of his cell and tried to make sense of what was happening.

 

Hours later, he was sitting against the bars when he heard murmurs. Straining his ears, he managed to make out something about Braavos, about the Iron Bank.

The Iron Bank was built as a safe-haven for gold and other precious objects, and it held most of Braavos’ riches, now. If anything were to happen to the money stored inside it, it was likely that the city would fall into financial ruin. And Liam realized, with a growing panic, that whoever was talking now seemed to be planning a giant robbery.

“Tomorrow night,” the lowest voice was saying. It seemed a bit familiar, and Liam was able to recognize it after a second as belonging to the most notorious gang leader in Braavos, a man named Korbin. “We’ll blow the bars. Then the next night, we’ll break into the Iron Bank, and steal everything they have.”

“We’ll need guards,” another voice said. “Inconspicuous ones.”

“We can hire a few ruffians off the street, those idiots would do anything if a bit of coin was promised in return.”

Liam listened to them talk for what felt like hours. That night, he thought about all the thievery he had done, and wondered if that made him any better than these men, these men who were ready to bring an entire city down. He thought about what his mother had taught him when he was just a boy; “don’t let yourself stand by,” she had said, “and let people cause harm you could have prevented.”

He decided then, lying on the little cot in his prison cell, that he was going to stop them. He would infiltrate them, he decided, pretend he wanted to be a guard, and then sabotage their plan somehow. All he needed to do was mess something up a little, in a way that they wouldn’t be able to pin on him, and then stand back and watch the entire plan crumble.

The next night, Korbin and the rest of his gang members set off a takedown of the guards. One by one, they were killed, or knocked out, and the men scrambled over the bodies and out into the streets. They would be going to their hideout, the location of which was known and avoided by every street ruffian in the area, and sought after by every policeman. Liam knew that this would be the perfect opportunity for him to make his move. One of the guards had landed near his cell, and he was able to reach his key ring and unlock the door through the bars, trying not to look into his open, hollow eyes. He waited until the last man left the building before following him outside, keeping close to the group but far enough away that they wouldn’t be suspicious. It was difficult, the bobbing and weaving, the entire group trying not to be noticed by the police, but Liam was, for the first time, near his target. He could see Po, flying high above them, having sensed his escape somehow.

He rushed into the lair as they filed in, and they turned, weapons drawn. Liam gulped. There were so many more than he had expected, and the guards had rifles. Po swooped down and landed on one of the tables, causing them all to turn towards him.

“I want to help.” Liam said.

“You what?” one of the men asked, after a beat.

“I heard you talking in the jail. You helped me break out, and I want to help. You want to rob the Iron Bank? I have a golden Pegasus. I can help you.” Liam shrugged his shoulders weakly. This was going to work. He knew it. Po didn’t like the look of these men very much, he was shaking his head fiercely as he spoke, as if to warn him away, but the men were eying the two of them up and down.

“The Pegasus would only draw attention. You’re our mule. That’s enough,” Korbin stepped forward, holding a knife in his hand. His grip on it was easy, and Liam could tell it was really out for show. He was trying to scare him, but he no longer perceived Liam as a threat.

“Fine, I can do that. We can take out more money with Po, he can carry a lot.” His plan hinged fully on Po, he had decided.

The day of the robbery, everyone donned masks and made their way over to the side of the bank, pressing against the walls. One by one, Po carted the men up onto one of the towers, shimmering and shining in the afternoon sun. This was a bit of a backup plan; if anything, maybe the glow of his golden coat would work as a sort of beacon, and prompt someone to come check the tower, where they were sure to find at least a few of the thieves that were going to keep watch. Liam had expected to be given a watching position, too, but it seemed Po and his endless possibilities had been too much for them to be able to resist.

As the men piled into the tower and spread out, disappearing off into the hallways, Liam watched them go nervously from the vantage point of the walkway above them. Po floated beside him, watching their retreating backs with disapproval.

The minutes ticked by slowly as they waited and waited, expecting to see movement of some kind at any moment. Suddenly, Korbin and a few other men rushed toward them, arms filled with coins and jewels. They began to pack them into the sacks at Po’s sides, snickering as they did so, and Liam did his best to seem calm. Po tensed beneath him as the men continued to load him with more and more money, obviously still against the entire idea, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. Liam patted his neck appreciatively, glad he wasn’t following his instinct to bolt. It wasn’t long before Po was completely overloaded, and they pulled him away to help the others climb back down to the ground.

This time, though, instead of lowering them gently, Po began to thrash, neighing loudly. Liam, pressed against the side of the tower, watched as treasure spilled from the bags, which he had purposely weakened the threads of only hours before. It was easy to do, just rubbing the bottoms of each sack against a rock until they were nearly worn through, just enough to hold some weight but not for very long. Guards streamed from all directions, drawn by the neighing and the clatter of the coins, and soon, the screaming of the thief that Po was finally able to throw from his back. Flying back over to Liam, toward whom Korbin was angrily advancing (it was no surprise that he was blaming him, it was, after all, his Pegasus), Po stopped beside him. Liam clambered on, and as they flew away, he watched as below him all the thieves were arrested. Most of them put up terrible fights, thrashing and stabbing for all they were worth, and many of the guards fell to the ground, staining the stones a ruby red. Others tried to fight with their swords or firebombs, but within minutes they were all on the ground too, beaten into submission. The plan had worked.

Hours later, when they were far enough away from the city, Po and Liam were finally able to take a break. At the bottom of one of the bags, Liam found a small gold coin, and he smiled, putting in his pocket. He would always remember this day, he swore by it. He could never return to Braavos now, not as long as Korbin knew his name, and Po wasn’t exactly conspicuous. He had no idea where they would go now, but at least it would be with the knowledge that he had made the world just a little bit of a better place.

 

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