Story-A-Day May #27: The Goblin Rule

Today’s storyaday.org prompt is to write a story for children inspired by The Golden Rule.

In my story, a certain thief follows a very unique interpretation of that rule. I’m not sure the story has a good moral, but there’s no inappropriate content or overly-long words, so I’ll say it’s close enough to fit the prompt.

***

The Goblin Rule

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there was a city of great wealth and beauty, which rose above fluffy white clouds. Colorful ribbons and flags fluttered on every rooftop, orange and blue, red and yellow. Every house was built of gold or silver and sparkled in the sunlight, or gleamed in the moonlight, never darkened by clouds or dampened by rain. The storms, you see, all passed below them.

But every house is built upon a foundation. In order for a city to rise above the clouds, there also must also be a city below the clouds. A city where the sun never shone, and it was always raining.

In that Undercity, there lived an orphan boy named Thomas. Thomas didn’t have a home, but he always found a cozy place to sleep. Sometimes in the soft soil of a walled garden, where friendly butterflies sang. Sometimes beneath a bridge, where the fish jumped out of the river and a gigantic troll snored. Sometimes in a toy shop, when its owner forgot to lock the door at night — that was his favorite place of all.

Thomas didn’t have any money, either, with which to buy food. So he did what anyone would do, and he stole. He stole warm bread from the baker, and buttery cheese from the cheesemonger, and sweet grapes from the farmers in their market.

Now Thomas wasn’t a very good thief, and he got caught in the act more often than not. The merchants always yelled and chased him, but Thomas was too quick to catch, scurrying under tables and squeezing through narrow alleyways. In a pinch, he could even slip through the sewer grates, where no one ever followed because they were afraid of alligators. Thomas thought the alligators were quite nice and they always exchanged polite greetings.

Still, all things considered, Thomas would rather not have to run away empty-handed so often. It seemed to him that he wasn’t the only thief in the Undercity. He was just the least successful one. There had to be a better thief who could show him the ropes. Thomas had never cared for school, and the mean teacher who rapped his knuckles with a ruler. He didn’t like learning the three Rs: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. But he expected he’d enjoy learning how to be a thief.

He often overheard the merchants complaining about goblins, and how they were all dirty rotten thieves. It seemed they got away with it, since Thomas had never seen a goblin put in shackles by the lawmen.

So Thomas marched straight up to the first goblin he saw. The green fellow was nearly the same height as Tomas, though he was fully grown, and had a little potbelly that stretched his cheaply made suit.

“Excuse me,” said Thomas. “I have heard that all goblins are thieves.”

“How very rude!” said the goblin, with an unpleasant look. “My mother is a clerk for a very prestigious lawyer, and my father, gods rest his soul, did his honest labors every day in the mines. My brother is an importer/exporter of rare antiquities, and my sister is a surgeon of some repute.”

“I’m sorry, that was very rude of me,” said Thomas. “I see now that it is wrong to make assumptions about goblins. And what is your profession?”

“I’m a thief,” said the goblin matter-of-factly.

“Ah,” said Thomas. “Then might you accept me as your apprentice? I would like to learn how to be a better thief.”

The goblin stroked his pointy green chin. “An apprentice? Well, well, there’s an idea I never considered. Of course I’d have to charge a fee. Have you got any money, lad?”

Thomas grabbed the few pennies in his pocket and held them out in his palm.

“You are a very poor thief, indeed. But this is your lucky day.” The goblin snatched the coins in the blink of an eye. “The name’s Grikthaz. Follow me.”

“I’m-” Thomas began.

“I don’t care,” said Grikthaz. “If I say ‘boy’, or ‘lad’, or ‘human’, or ‘hey you’, then that means you, okay?”

Thomas nodded. “Okay.”

Side by side, they walked along the cobblestone streets as Grikthaz lectured. “Now, the big problem with you humans is you’re so uncultured.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Thomas.

“It means you got no edumacation. No time-honored traditions. At least, none worth speaking of. We goblins live by a code, and that code pleases the Goddess, and the Goddess gives us thieves her blessing. You got all that?”

“Not really, “ said Thomas, wondering if he should be writing all of this down. Maybe he should have paid more attention in school, after all.

The goblin sighed. “Okay, okay. I’ll keep this real simple. A thief’s gotta live by The Goblin Rule, and then the Goddess will look out for you. And the Goblin Rule says, ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.’”

Thomas scratched his head, remembering that mean old teacher scribbling on a blackboard. “Isn’t that called ‘The Golden Rule’?”

“No, that’s the other problem with you humans. You’ve all got wax in your ears. It’s always been the Goblin Rule, you just misheard us talking about it.”

They entered a crowded market. The aroma of hot food made Thomas’ nose twitch and his belly growl.

“But I want to steal food,” said Thomas. “And I wouldn’t like people to steal food from me.”

Grikthaz shook his head sadly. “That’s human thinking. Here allow me to demonstrate.” He bumped into a woman, professed his deep and lasting regret, and came away juggling a pouch of coins. She never noticed a thing.

“You stole her purse, that easily!” Thomas was amazed and impressed. Think of all the food he could buy with those coins. “But what about The Gold- The Goblin Rule?”

Grikthaz patted another leather pouch tied to his belt. “Go ahead, do unto others. Steal my purse, like I stole hers.”

Thomas was a lot more clumsy about it, and he had some trouble untying the knot, but at last he held a surprisingly heavy pouch. He opened it up and peered inside. “It’s full of rocks.”

“Yes, it was really quite a burden, and I’m glad to be rid of it.” Grikthaz chuckled to himself. “You see?”

“I think so,” said Thomas. “If I want to steal a pouch of coins, I need to carry my own pouch of something less-good, which I’d like to be stolen. But what if I want to steal a loaf of bread?” His stomach audibly growled, loud enough for half the market to hear.

Grikthaz gave him a pitying look. “That’s a slightly different technique. The Goblin Rule says nothing about proportions.”

“What’s a purr-portion?”

“It might be easier if I show you, again. This time, you’ll do the thieving. When I create a distraction, you nab a loaf of bread and go around that corner over there, quick as you can.” Grikthaz circled around a baker’s stall and immediately began arguing about moldy bread and how he was charging too much.

With the baker’s back turned, Thomas nervously walked up to the stall, grabbed a giant loaf of bread, and made his getaway. He was giddy with excitement by the time he ducked around the corner, out of sight.

Grikthaz met him a moment later, grinning. “Easy, wasn’t it? Always is when you’re doing it right, and the Goddess is smiling down on you.”

“But what about the Goblin Rule? I wouldn’t like someone to steal my bread.” In fact, Thomas clutched it tight to his chest like a prized teddy bear.

“Proportions, lad. What did you do unto the baker? You took his food. Not all of it, though, did you?”

“No, he had a whole stall left.” Thomas’ mouth watered just thinking of all the buttered rolls, powdered donuts, and little cakes. They were always on shelves in the back, where he could never reach them.

“Right. And wouldn’t you happily let your new pal Grikthaz take some of your food, but not all of it?”

“Sure,” said Thomas eagerly, breaking the loaf in half. “So if we split it evenly-”

“No, no, you’ve got a lot to learn about proportions, lad. They’re not just 50-50.”

Thomas’ heart sank, thinking he was about to lose almost all of his meal. But if that was the price of his apprenticeship, he’d have to pay it.

Grikthaz reached out and broke off a tiny piece of crust. “There, now. That should satisfy me.” He patted his round belly.

“You mean I can keep all I’ve got?” Thomas’ eyes lit up.

“Careful there, or you’ll run afoul of The Goblin Rule. Nobody can ever keep all they’ve got. But you can enjoy what you have, for as long as you have it.”

Thomas was already cheerfully munching away. Through a mouthful of crumbs, he said, “I guess I have a lot to learn.”

“Never fear,” said Grikthaz. “We’ll rid you of that coarse, uncultured human thinking soon enough.”

Thereafter, the master thief and his new apprentice thieved happily for many years while following The Goblin Rule, and had many unexpected adventures, under the approving eye of the Goddess. And Thomas never went hungry again.

***

Thanks for reading!

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