Counting them all, I could see about ten to fifteen soldiers walking past us. The boy at the market was getting increasingly nervous, and finally just tossed some money at the merchant and grabbed his bag of goods, tying it into a tight knot at the top.
"Thank you, Merchant! May the Realm bless you with good fortune all your days!" He squeaked, quickly trying to find a way to make his escape.
"Wait, boy! You gave me too much!" The merchant said.
"You can keep the extra! My father...the prince...he thanks you!" The boy told him, and began to duck his head low and try to walk past the soldiers without being noticed. The other end of the alley was a dead end, and he must have known that ahead of time because he knew exactly which direction to head in. I'll have to give him credit for being quite the slick one.
Unfortunately, as he attempted to hurry past the squad in such a narrow alley...he wasn't quite slick enough.
"Hey!" One of the soldiers grunted, and grabbed the boy by his arm, reaching out to lift his chin and look him in the eye. Even with his dusty locks of brown hair covering most of his face, he could tell that this was the boy they were looking for. "THIS is him! THIS is the one!"
Their leading soldier came over to grab the boy and look him over. "Scavenger THIEF! Did you think you could steal our coin and get away with it???"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" The boy cried out, and they slammed his back up against the alley wall. "Owww! Leave me be!"
"Where is the silver that you stole from us? Tell me boy, or so help me..."
"I didn't steal your coin! I swear!" He said, straining to breathe as the soldier put his hand around the boy's skinny throat. It made us uneasy to watch it all, but what could we do? King Versis' soldiers would have us all thrown into a cage for interfering in their affairs.
"No? Then tell me..." The soldier said, taking a hold of his bag, "How is it that a filthy little street urchin like YOU could afford all of these goods?"
Struggling to breathe, the boy said, "My father gave me the money! He's a prince!"
"Is that so?" He asked.
And the boy said, "Ask him yourself! He's right over there at the end of the alley! Look!"
All of the soldiers looked back to see if they could catch sight of this fabled 'prince' of his...and that proved to be a mistake. The second the soldier's eyes were taken off of his target, the boy made a swift grab for his bag of goods, and he dropped down to his knees so fast that the soldier couldn't maintain a hold on his thin and scrawny little neck anymore! The boy crawled between the soldier's legs, got up to his feet and began to RUN like his life depended on it. And let's be serious...it probably did.
"HEY!!! STOP THAT BOY!!!" The main soldier shouted, but the rest of the Dermian market shoppers simply moved out of his way as he swished and swiveled his tiny frame between them at top speed. It didn't look like anyone had a chance of catching him, even if they tried. "THIEF!!! After him!!!"
I watched as the youngster leapt off of the ground and began running on the tables to avoid the people trying to cut him off in the narrow confines of the alley. I would have thought it would be a terribly frightening situation for one so young, who was obviously just trying to survive by getting himself some food to sustain him. But...when I looked at his face...I saw the most mischievous smirk that I had ever laid eyes on. He was enjoying this, wasn't he?
One of the soldiers went to the merchant's shop, and said, "His goods were bought with stolen money! I demand that you return it to us immediately!"
But the merchant merely backed up with a wicked smile. "Sorry, boys. All sales are final." And he had an iron door close as soon as he was inside the shop behind him. I guess it's their problem, not his.
Two soldiers ran into the alley, trying to lunge forward on top of the tables and grab the kid by the legs to slow him down...but this boy could jump pretty high on his own. Full of youthful energy, he was able to leap high enough to where the guards caught nothing but air as they fell on the table top, hearing a bratty 'giggle' from the boy as he ran right over them.
He hopped back down to the ground for a minute, and saw a soldier approaching him from the front. His worn out shoes slid to a sudden stop, kicking up small clouds of dust as he reversed direction. Then he saw two more soldiers coming from the other direction, causing him to slide to another stop right away. His brown hair flopped around wildly as he looked to both sides of the alley, and found himself a rather large table to the right of him. He scampered to the side to crawl underneath it just as the soldiers began drawing swords to assault him with. The stakes were high, but as I looked on, I found myself rooting for the kid to wiggle his way out of all this.
He was so small. There was no way that an adult sized soldier was going to be able to chase him under there. But they were trying desperately to get down low enough and reach in to grab a hold of him. They went to one side, and then to another, and then tried to surround him on all sides...but he was just too damn fast for their efforts to do much good. They couldn't even lay a hand on him. Such a cunning boy!
"Come out from under there! We ORDER you..."
"STUFF your orders, slow poke!!!" The boy cackled, angering them even more.
It made sense. The more frustrated the men became, the less effective they were in their methods to actually get a lock on him. But, as they came closer, the boy rolled out from under the table and ran towards the nearest market, swinging around the pole and stepping up on the hot coals that they were using to cook their meats. "Oww! Ooh ooh ohh...ahhh!" He shouted, dancing on the coals while trying to keep from burning his feet. Then he began kicking the hot coals into the soldiers' faces, causing them to flinch and duck and fall over. I swear, it was the most entertaining thing that I had ever seen in the Dermian market! I could watch this all day! Hahaha!
He did a side flip to get off of the coals and back to the ground, but a soldier was able to grab a hold of his shirt. He yanked him back, but this boy was so savvy in his evasion tactics, spinning and squirming so much that he was nearly impossible to hold on to. In fact, at one point, he actually spun himself right out of his own shirt, his underdeveloped little chest briefly exposed as he slipped right out of the cloth, spun around the guard's back, and slipped it right back on before his attacker even knew what was happening. How the heck did he get himself out of that? This boy was amazing!
We watched him roll over another table or two, and when a soldier tried to cut off his access to the main street of the market, he got a running start, dropped down, and slid right between the guard's legs, rolling back up to his feet on the other side. And he never once dropped his bag of goods. Impressive.
However, as all of the soldiers were recovering from their bewilderment and continued the chase, I saw the boy heading right for the three of us, and with a simple 'bump' and a spin, he had stolen the practice sword right off of my hip and was holding it in his hand before I could even reach for it to stop him. What the...? How the hell did he even DO that???
Now, my sword was made of wood, and it would be no match for the real metal blades that he was up against, but he held it up against a few of the soldiers anyway. And when they came at him, he began expertly swinging and slashing at them with it as though he had been doing it all his life. "Die, treacherous scum! Ha ha!" He said. "You worthless lackeys are no match for the unstoppable Verin Hax! Know my name, and tremble with fear!" That boy could spin and roll and move like no one that I had ever seen before. As serious as the situation was, it all just looked like a playful game to him.
They began to swing their weapons at him wigh a rage, but he could either jump over them, or sommersault under them with ease. They were probably not used to fighting an opponent so small in stature. It was like trying to swing a battleaxe at a field mouse. It just wasn't doing them any good.
Now, despite all of his playful pokes and strikes, a wooden practice sword wasn't going to do much damage to a well trained soldier. But this 'Verin Hax' character knew how to do just enough to confuse them and trip them up when needed. The boy was actually making some strategic moves forward until he felt the harsh sting of a lash wrapping around his wrist.
Tionna had both of her lashes out and was now adopting an attack stance as she pulled his hand back. "Filthy swindler! That's not your sword!" She said, and she leapt forward to join in the fight.
"Awww, come on! I was gonna give it back!" The boy ducked her attack, and even though Tionna is one hell of a combatant when it comes to trading blows with another person, she didn't seem to be able to land a single hit on this kid. She had both of her lashes out, whipping them out in his direction as he dodged and rolled underneath them. The boy accidentally spilled some of his illgotten silver coins at my feet while he was fighting to keep from getting whipped. Then, one of the lashes struck him hard on his rear end, and he jumped up, grabbing it with both hands as he dropped my practice sword to the ground! "Ahhhhhh! CHEATER! Fine! KEEP it! Damn Ferrans!!! You all SUCK!!!" He said, and saw the soldiers coming after him again. So he scurried up the main street of the marketplace, looking for a quick way out.
Tionna almost gave chase, but I stopped her and told her to just leave him alone. She handed me my sword back, but I was too busy watching Verin to see what would happen next. Even Cerian seemed to be grinning from ear to ear from the big show. Such an angelic smile. Almost distracting enough to take my mind off of the chase completely.
One soldier was able to wrap his arm around the boy's neck, causing him to cough and choke for a moment...but then he turned the guard around to a nearby wall, and his little feet ran up the side of the wall to flip over the man's shoulder and land behind him, pushing him forward. He slid under a table and popped up on the other side, climbing up one of the merchant stands' poles to land on the awning above. With a bounce or two, he began running from stand to stand while the guards fought their way through the crowd, trying to keep sight of him. When he ran out of cloth awnings, he tumbled down to the ground and tried to fake them out as best as he could.
"Excuse me! Excuse me! Sorry! On your left! On your right! Duck down! Thank you!" He said, navigating his way through the thick of the masses with much less effort than the soldiers were having. But they were catching up to him fast.
I giggled to myself, looking over at Cerian. "Do you wanna see how this ends?"
"More than anything!" He said.
"We'll take a shortcut! C'mon, Tionna!" I laughed, sprinting forward to a nearby alley.
"This is insanity!" She shouted out after us...but was quick to give in anyway. "Ugh!!! Wait up!!!"
We ran down the alley and got back to the next main street just in time to see the soldiers reaching out for Verin and getting closer to capturing him. We watched him fight and kick and maneuver himself with even more of a fury than he did before. He must have been one of the most 'slippery' boys in the realm. The way that he could zig zag and change direction in mid step had the guards tripping over their own feet trying to anticipate his next swashbuckling move.
As they got closer, he reached into one of the merchant's plate of super hot spices, and threw them into one of the soldier's eyes. He started to cough and wheeze and it blinded him instantly. Verin spun around a pole, grabbing a live Kokoa bird and tossing it another one of his assailants, the frantic bird's talons scratching and slashing wildly as the guard tried to keep them away from his face.
One soldier managed to grab a hold of Verin's arm, and he was too little to create the force he needed to pull away from his grip. "Ungh!!! Unghhh!!!" Instead, he frantically looked at his surroundings, seeing two men playing an intense game of Manupa on the edge of the alley. They had a lot of coin on the table to bet with, and Verin quickly leaned his head back and squealed, "Seraph 6, to position 19!"
Looking at the board, the man took his advice, and immediately won the game! "HEY! That's game! Pay up!" The man said.
Angry, the other man flipped the board over, coin and all. "LOUSY CHEAT!!! I'll bash your skull in!!!" And the two men suddenly began to throw punches at one another, bumping the soldier that was holding Verin and pressing him against the wall as the boy wiggled right out of his grip.
He got down on his hands and knees and began crawling as fast as he could through the crowd, but one of the soldiers eventually found him and pulled him back up to his feet by the scruff of his neck. Verin pulled his arm back and punched him in the stomach with all of the muscle that he could pack into those scrawny little arms of his. Heh...his tiny fist practically bounced right off of the soldiers brick wall of abdominal fortitude. "Owww! Bully!" He said. He attempted to spin and squirm his way out of the guard's massive hands and iron grip, but this particular soldier seemed to be able to hold on to him. And when Verin DID manage to get away for a split second, the man reached out to grab a handful of the boy's hair, yanking his head back and causing him clench his eyes shut and cry out in pain.
For a moment, I thought that would be the end of it. Especially since the other frustrated soldiers were now getting up and coming to take their vengeance out on the boy for causing them so much stress. But even with the guard gripping his longish brown hair in his hand, he was searching for a way to get the advantage. He was too small to fight them, one on one...but he more than compensated for his size with cunning and quick thinking alone.
Looking at a rather large woman in front of him with her back turned at one of the markets, Verin thrust his hand out and roughly squeezed her ass!
The woman yelped out loud, and when she turned around, she happened to be a female cyclops with one thick eyebrow and a mouth full of sharp teeth. Verin's eyes opened WIDE, and he gasped at how incredibly 'ugly' she was! "Yowzers!!!" He was truly frightened for a moment there, but when he saw the utter rage in her face, he quickly rattled his hand, pointing to the soldier holding him by the hair and blaming him for the rude offense.
Cyclops women are known for being extremely brutal when they need to be. And when she pulled back her arm, fist balled up, muscles rippling...the three of us just KNEW that this was going to be one hell of a punch! Tionna, Cerian, and I, all cringed as the swung and knocked that soldier right off of his feet and back on his shoulders as he rolled over a table of handcrafted pottery! Releasing Verin's hair and allowing him to escape again.
"Yeah! Teach him a lesson! That guy's a monster! Grabbing random butt! SHAME on you!" The boy said, and took off running again while the female cyclops continued to pound the poor bastard into the dirt.
Cerian and I began to laugh uncontrollably at the scene, and even cheered the youngster on as he ran past us for a second time. The remaining soldiers were in pursuit, but they were too far behind to ever entertain any hopes of catching him now. We watched as Verin found one of the outer walls of the marketplace, and there was a tiny space in the stones that was barely big enough for even his miniature body to wiggle through, much less a full grown adult. They tried to grab his foot or his ankle or something before he got all the way through, but they were unsuccessful. He kicked enough dirt and dust in their faces on his way underneath the wall that they could hardly breathe.
The lead soldier shouted, "Get under there! One of you...one of you apprehend him!" But none of them were small enough to shimmy through the way Verin did. "Then....just...!" The guard looked up and tried to jump up to see if he could reach the top of the wall so he could climb over, but he wasn't tall enough. Aggravated beyond belief, his head angrily darted from one side to the other, trying to see how long the wall was on either side to see if they could go around it. Unfortunately, it would have been at least a thousand paces in each direction. And the 'Unstoppable Verin Hax' would be long gone by the time they made it to the other side. Even at a full sprint.
The boy had won. Against Solomon's belligerent soldier squad. And we found ourselves applauding him for such an exciting display. Cerian and I had laughed until our bellies hurt, leaning on one another for support as we fought for breath...but Tionna seemed to be harboring a few pinches of jealousy over seeing us get along so well, so quickly. It wasn't something that I had done deliberately to hurt her feelings. She must know that. We were just...having fun. That's all.
As our laughter died down a bit, and Cerian's eyes met mine, I felt myself being drawn into my cravings for him all over again. His beauty...the very aura that he maintained, inside and out, it was like a warm blanket on a cold night to me. Everything about him warranted immediate praise and worship. A work of art...that you loved to see...but secretly needed to touch to convince yourself that it was real.
So very beautiful.
I noticed Cerian staring closer at my eyes, and I was worried that they were turning pink again in his presence. I swiftly guided my stare down at the dirt beneath my feet, hiding my desires before I completely ruined a perfectly good moment between us. I really do wish that my eyes didn't do that.
Cerian smiled to himself, a light blush flooding into his porcelain smooth cheeks...and he reached into his pocket to pull out a small handful of silver. He gave me six pieces, and kept six for himself. "Wait...what is this?" I asked.
"It is the will of Kalo at work. Balance." He smiled. "You gave that man three pieces of silver in an act of kindness, and I followed your lead." Then he added, "The boy spilled the coins out at our feet as he was trying to escape. Twelve pieces exactly. Six for you...six for me. Anything you give to others is certain to come back to you. Two fold." He grinned, but Tionna rolled her eyes.
"Total coincidence. Doesn't count." She said. "Besides...it's stolen money. How does that figure into your philosophy, preacher's son?"
"Maybe it doesn't have to." He answered. "The fact is, our kindness seems to have been rewarded by the balance of the realm. And it shouldn't be taken for granted."
If Cerian keeps talking I'm going to have to drag him off somewhere ad just start kissing him. I don't know how much more of this my heart can take.
"Cerian!!! There you are!" Came a voice from over his shoulder. And his father was rapidly approaching, quick to find his son and give him a protective hug. "I told you not to wander too far from me. There are many disturbances going on in this market today. It's best that we find our way home. Come now."
"In a moment, Father." Cerian said, and he looked back at me with a smile. "Today was quite an experience. It was a lot of fun to be here with you, Orrin."
"Likewise..." I said, my breath already getting short over the emotional threat of having to let him go. "Will you be back? To the Dermian Marketplace, I mean."
"Hehehe, after what I've seen here today, I doubt I could ever stay away." He grinned.
My vision was definitely going pink now, and I was certain that he could see the change in my eye color, but I didn't fight so hard to hide it this time. There was a part of me that wondered...what would happen if he did see it? And what would happen...if he decided he liked it?
"Come now, Cerian. Sentinels are about. We should be going." His father said, and Cerian gave me a very timid, but sincere, wave goodbye.
"Good luck with your trials on your fifteenth ring, Orrin." He said.
"Thank you..." I tried to come up with something else to say, but it felt as though my tongue was tied in a knot. Seeing him leave really caused my heart to ache inside. I just stared at him as his father led him around the next street corner and out of my life. I couldn't believe how much it hurt to have so much distance between us.
Snapping out of my trance, I turned to my left, and I saw Tionna standing there with her arms folded, shaking her head at me. "You know..." She started, "...You are really...REALLY awful at loving boys!"
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