The Market Place
I keep my eye on the crown of Trex’s head as it bobs through the crowded market place. He’s fast and my body, full of bruises and nothing else, protests as I try to follow. I can’t let his figure leave my sight. Not now. Not when I’m so close. I watch him slide an apple from a display into his pocket with the shop keeper none-the-wiser. I curse, because it is done so smoothly, even I have a hard time noticing it despite all my attention being on him. In the years spanning between this encounter and our last, he’s either gotten impressively fast or I have lost my touch.
His tuft of hair turns and for a moment I am starring into his eyes. The crowd moves around us, but I’ve stopped in my tracks and so has he. Despite the distance, I see his breath hitch and his mouth drop open. It must only be a second, he’s too clever to wait any longer, but it feels like an eternity before he turns. I watch his movements become even more fluid as my stomach sinks. I need to catch him. The goons of my father haven’t caught up to me yet, but they will and when they do, there will be hell to pay.
I sprint after him, but smack into someone rather quickly. I don’t bother checking who it is or if they are okay. I pivot, trying to scoot past the form and continue running. A hand grips my wrist, yanking me back into place. I keep my eyes on Trex as I wiggle my wrist to get free. This isn’t happening. I am so close. I just need a minute or two with Trex. Once Trex’s head disappears into the crowd, I register that my captor is screaming. I look around at him.
He’s big and burly but looks like a butcher not a soldier and it takes me a second or two of listening to him to realize he is speaking Urnish, the native language of this tiny town, because it is so heavily accented.
I catch the word “Thief!” and a few less kind words as I stare at him with open blankness. This man, this entire encounter, is nothing more than a gnat among my problems and I don’t even have the energy to be angry. Not when I am full of frustration and panic. He tires quickly of my blank stare, and so, as if to make sure I understand his distain he spits on my face before letting go.
I howl. How dare he? And in my haste to get away I bump into him again, this time though he lets me shoulder past him. He shouldn’t, as my fingers have found their way into one of his pockets, but he does. I use my arm to wipe off the spit, disguising the coin in my hand with the haste of the move. The spit has turned the unfortunate amount of dirt on my face into spitty mud. I try not to think about what else has been in that man’s mouth. I lose myself in the crowd, flipping the coin on my knuckles. I can’t believe I was so close to Trex, he was in my sight, and I’ve already lost him again. I search the crowd, flicking my eyes back and forth. Then, when it is obvious he is gone, I glance at the rooftops.
I’m playing a dangerous game and I want to be sure I’m not being watched before I find him again. My father has always said that no one looks up, so if his men were in town, they’d be on high ground. I see nothing except the streamers hung for market day between the buildings. Buildings full of shops. Only the most lucrative ones have electric lighting, which are on as the sun is setting and the street is turning to shadows. This is good, I tell myself, I’ll be less recognizable in the dark.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I need a plan, and quickly. The longer I am out here in the open, the more likely one of my father’s men will find me no matter the lighting.
I need a source, I don’t think Trex will be strolling around the streets anytime soon. Not when he’s spotted me. Classic us, I’m trying to save his life and he’s trying to avoid me. The best sources are the urchins on the streets. The trick will be finding one that won’t lie to me.
I open my eyes, and doddle around the market stands. It is a testament to the state of this town that my grubby appearance doesn’t bring too much attention. I buy an apple from the very stand Trex stole from using my borrowed coin. I am eating it and scanning my surroundings when I spot a thief, only in trade, the kid’s fingers get snatched when he reaches for bread. He turns and tries to disappear into the crowd. Unfortunately for him, he is not nearly as skilled at it as Trex and the shopkeeper catches him by the scruff of his neck and throws him to the ground. He beats the poor thing.
I pass the unattended bread stand, still crunching on my apple, and lift a couple loaves into my satchel. I know, a petty distraction, but I need bargaining chips. The shopkeeper finishes with the kid right in time for me to slip away. I feel a familiar bubble of shame and push it down, right back to where it came from. It’s easy to do with the hunger in my stomach and the urgency of the situation.
The boy is easy enough to follow. His tactics are beginner at best. By the time I get him cornered in an alley, my apple is gone. He’s on the ground, nursing his bruises when I kick a rock, causing a bit of a clatter. He whips his head up to stare at me.
“You lost your loot,” I smirk at him. I force myself to sound arrogant rather than panicked, it only kind of works. If I sound too desperate, he’ll shake me down for more than I’ve got. We all know how to do that on the streets.
He coughs, “Not the first time.” His eyes sweep down my figure catching, I’m sure, everything. From the very unwashed dirty blonde hair that probably has a few leaves in it, to my very baggy clothes. I fidget, despite attempting to stop myself.
He’s only a kid. That’s what I tell myself. I try to forget Trex’s life could rely on this scrawny boy. “Maybe I could help you.”
“What kind of help could you possibly give me?” He snorts.
Instead of replying I take out one of the loaves of bread, breaking off a piece and shoving it into my mouth. The bite stirs the ravenous hunger that was barely touched by my apple, but I make myself do it slowly. Bite by bite. It won’t do to puke this up later and eating faster won’t actually help Trex anyway. I need to tease this boy into divulging information, not make him watch me devour food.
His eyes widen, watching my careful bites. “What do you want?”
“One thing, pretty easy, actually. Have you heard of anyone around here named Trex?”
He blinks confusion away. He must be pretty new to the streets, no one gives information easily. He says, “You mean the guy living in the alley across from the baker? What do you want with him? He’s kind of a grouch.”
I don’t have time to answer his questions; I toss him my satchel, it only has bread in it anyway, and take off. The baker must be rich, his shop is lit up brighter than if it were day, making it easy to find. The alley across from it, however, isn’t nearly what I thought it would be. The walls are rather narrow and it dead ends in only about 25 feet. I cluck my tongue a bit. If Trex lives here, he remembers nothing I taught him. It would be too easy to get cornered here. I don’t even want to walk down it, but I force myself to.
As I look closer even the steadily lined garbage bins look abandoned. There is no way anyone, especially not someone the size of Trex, lives here. I slump my shoulders a little. I am wasting valuable time.
Then I see it.
There is a crate at the very back of the alley. Trex had a thing for hiding in crates whenever we were being chased as kids. I almost don’t dare hope as I approach it.
I expect him to make this hard for me, to pretend he isn’t here even if he is. Instead, a tentative “Hello” comes from really close to me. I jump. I guess my wide-eyed stare offends him because he begins speaking before I’ve said a single word. “I don’t forgive you, you know.”
“What?” I splutter it, like a half-drowned cat.
“You know perfectly well what for.” He crosses his arms, almost glaring at me. I don’t know actually. Theoretically, it could be for any number of things. I’m not exactly famous for my kindness.
“I have rehearsed this conversation in my head a thousand times, and it is rather rude that you aren’t sticking to the script.” The words spill from me, and I feel stupid for saying them.
His grin is just like I remember but it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “You also aren’t welcome here. You know that.”
That I could have guessed by the way he disappeared on me two years ago. I roll my eyes; I’m not thrilled I’m here either. “Welcome or not I have information you need now.”
I really just want to grab his hand and run. I don’t have time for the explanation he deserves, and even if I did, what would I say? ‘You’re a Prince and my father, an assassin, is after you?’ I’m sure that would go over well. The men on my tail could be closing in at any moment, and I’m sure his reaction is going to take more than a moment.
He’s eyeing me skeptically, “What information?”
I open my mouth to blurt out my crappy explanation, it’s all I’ve got. I even get so far as saying, “Trex…” when quiet thuds catch my attention. People. People dropping from the rooftops, trapping us in this cursed alleyway. I whip around, trying to count how many, I don’t count fast enough, but I spot the brands that mark them as my father’s men at the same moment I feel a heavy clunk on the back my head and the world that was growing dark already turns a stark, spinning black.
Images parade through my unconscious mind, like my brain wants to relive its worst moments. The first is what comes to mind whenever I am reminded of my mother. I see the scene like an outsider, my dark-skinned mother is covered in her own blood glassy eyes staring up at the ceiling, my father’s face full of horror all the while still gripping the kitchen knife he’d gutted her with, and me, a little girl with tragedy in her eyes, running away.
As that fades, my mind shoves a memory from the first time I was on the streets with Trex to the front. Two stick thin children laid out side by side, taking cover from the heat of the summer behind an alley wall. You can see each bone in our hands, and death in our eyes.
That turns into the Paranoid King marching me roughly through the palace of Aura, his grip on my ear so tight his knuckles have turned white. My hands grip his arm trying to alleviate the pain of it, but of course even the self in my memory knows the physical pain isn’t the reason for the tears on her face.
I am jostled awake, but no one is touching me, so I take a moment to myself. I keep my eyes shut and focus on breathing.
Being Kidnapped is about as Fun as it Sounds
My mind reminds me not to trust Tj. She is a liar, a bringer of ill fate, and well, Tj. Another part of my brain, watching swirls of colors move around like clouds, replies that she was still a decent friend, my only friend. They argue and I am an observer in my own head, until everything is overtaken by a pounding pain, and I open my eyes.
The first thing I am aware of is the darkness engulfing me. Did the blow to my head blind me? No, I realize as I slowly make out shapes in the darkness. I blink a few times before trying to rub my eyes.
My hands are halted nearly immediately, rope claws at the soft skin of my wrists. I stop trying to move my arms and test out my ankles, as I suspected, rope holds them together, too. I let myself huff before trying to search for the knot with my fingers, praying I’ll be able to untie it. As I do, my fingers brush against my back. I stop. My shirt is missing? Why? Then I have a horrible thought and bend my knees into my chest. The unmistakable feeling of skin on skin comes. I do notice however that I’m sitting on material, making me nearly sure my underwear is intact, thankfully.
The wood I am sitting on is rough and it smells of unwashed bodies in here, though I suppose that isn’t a surprise. The last time I made the trek to the river to wash was at least a week ago. The ground jostles and I fall into a lump next to me.
It’s soft and warm, and…I scramble back as best I can. I’d bet that it is a rather scantily dressed Tj and I want to be as far away as possible if I’m right.
A groan from the direction I just moved away from confirms, at least, that it’s another person. After a few more seconds Tj’s voice says, “I think they drugged us.”
I am suddenly aware of the weird taste in my mouth. “Probably.”
“Also, no gags.”
By this time, I’ve backed myself into a wall, though it isn’t all that far from where Tj is, if I had to guess. “How wonderfully observant you are.”
I can feel her glaring in my direction even if I can’t see it. “Odd, don’t you think?”
“It’s like you’ve—”
A sob cuts me off.
I feel myself stiffen, I’d thought it was just us and supplies in here.
“Who’s there?” The voice is too little to be anything more than a child’s and sniffles accompany the question.
If I had any doubt the person next to me was Tj the curses that roll over me, like a refreshing ocean tide, dries them up quickly. They are a layered and often repeated set of curses that include blaming weird relatives of hers for things. When she is done, she says, “Could this be any worse?”
The floor jostles to a stop and I realize we’ve been moving. My discomfort in knowing my home must be far behind is an itch I can’t scratch. I’ve spent two years in that little town in Urn, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere since the court of Aura, and I’m not entirely sure we are even still in Urn.
A loud creak sounds from the opposite way of the child and a slice of moonlight grows as a door opens. The entire structure shifts to one side and then the other as a shadow enters our cozy prison. I can only just see the outline of the very large man until he gets closer. Maybe I should keep my eyes on the man, but I glance at Tj instead. I can’t help it. Something in me resorts to the instinct of following her lead, an instinct built by following her around for years. Even in the glimmer of light let in, her emotions are easily read as they play across her face. Confusion, anger, terror.
The captor’s smile is gruesome and when he gets close to us, my stomach decides it shouldn’t cooperate. Perhaps it is his smell. My dry heaving does nothing to stop the guy from getting closer.
He grabs Tj’s face and spits on it, her only response is to glare. Her terror chased away by pride. Of course, none of that helps my stomach and I start making audible sounds. He looks at me like I’m only a nuisance and returns his attention to her. “Nice of you to bring some friends, huh?”
She grimaces enough to get a good look at our fellow passenger, a kid that seems vaguely familiar, and then curses again. The man standing over her rams his foot into her ribs, not just once, multiple times, while his face is twisted into the same gruesome smile. I close my eyes, trying to block out the dull thuds as best I can. Tj grunts after every kick and when it finally stops, the breath drawn is shaky.
I dare to open my eyes.
She glares up at her assailant and between gritted teeth she says, “Felix, I will have my revenge, you know that right?” She may be on the ground, bound and broken, but I shiver with the threat.
“You can try if you like,” he gets his face so it’s eye level with her, “I wouldn’t suggest it though, Tj.” Felix smirks as he struts his way out an accomplishment given the space.
Tj snaps her head in my direction, trying to catch my reaction to her name. Over the years, she has given me countless names to call her, never her real one though. Watching her anxious stare is the first time in two years that I’ve wondered what reason she’s given herself for why I ditched her. In truth, I could no longer pretend to disbelieve that she was Tj. THE Tj. As in the daughter of the most well-known assassin, the most wanted criminal in some countries, and a person whose name frequents bedtime stories. There were too many coincidences. Too many of the stories featuring her sounded vaguely reminiscent of my own life and experiences. Knowledge of her identity is dangerous, and she is dangerous to be around. This particular kidnapping proves that. I left.