A brother and sister play at being heroes, and the game changes their lives. This is a NOVELLA and is about 16,200 words. It stands alone but is set about 12 years after Street Fox and several generations after The King's Sword. It is concurrent with an upcoming novel.
Third Age, 761
I woke beside a fire. There was raucous laughter, and I smiled. I wondered who the men were. My head felt fuzzy, and I tried to remember what I was doing. Was I sick? I’d been going somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where.
I tried move and couldn’t get my hands free. I was sitting on my hands. Why? Something hurt. Everything hurt. My wrists were bound? Why?
The laughter came closer, and then suddenly I was looking up into a grinning face, the man’s greasy hair stringing down almost into my eyes. He held my hair in his fist and twisted my head back roughly. “Pretty boy’s awake.”
“Is he? Ask him about his pretty little sword.”
More harsh laughter.
“Pretty boy, you have a pretty little sword. Mind if I borrow it?” He laughed and snapped my head forward again.
“Pretty little knife, too. I like it. Mind if I borrow it?” this was a different voice.
I tried to rise, and barely made it to one knee before something smashed into my shoulder. I fell on my face, trying not to cry out. Someone jerked on the rope binding my hands behind me and I almost screamed, the pain ripping through my shoulders.
“Oh, pretty boy? Have anything else for us? Gold? Surely a rich boy like you has some gold on him.”
They were already going through my things. My gold coins were spread in neat little rows on a broad flat rock, lined up by value. I felt sick, partly from fear and partly because my head ached so badly. What was I doing? Where was I going? Who were they?
Brigands, obviously. Bandits. I tried to think clearly. The coins were nothing. The sword would be useful but it was definitely out of reach. The knife… where was it? One man held it up and waggled it at me, then laughed and stuck it in his boot. My hands felt numb, tingly, and I strained against the rope, trying not to make it too obvious.
“Pretty boy’s trying to escape, is he?”
Someone jerked my arms again and tears came to my eyes. My shoulder hurt, a sharp pain and then a deeper one when he abruptly let me fall again. Someone kicked me in the back, and I bit back a curse and a less manly urge to cry.
Then they mostly ignored me for a while. I put names to their faces. Grammin was the stringy haired one. Lurdua was the one who had my knife. Srivo was the man with my sword. Then I gave names to the other ones, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Pig was the fat one. Cur was the one with the sharp jaw and growling voice. Phraa punctuated every utterance with that curse.
I tried to be brave, tried to keep my mind steady and focused, but my heart sunk every time someone glanced my direction. I sniffled, and they looked at me and laughed.
“Brat. What’s your name, pretty boy?”
“What’s it to you?”
He hit me across the face, a contemptuous backhanded strike, but even so, he knocked me off my knees to my side, unable to catch myself. I licked my split lip, blood and dirt together.
“What’s your name, brat?” he drew the point of his knife along the line of my jaw.
“Liamo. Liamo Yerskanoa.”
After a very long while, after they’d eaten (I got nothing, of course), they started to settle down for the night. I wondered what they wanted of me. Ransom?
One of them cursed suddenly. “Grammin, I’ll slit your throat if you do that again.”
“Throwing rocks at me.”
“Phraa, it an’t Grammin.”
“Nah! Hit me too. Came from there.” Cur pointed off into the darkness.
Grammin didn’t even use words. He only growled and motioned to two others to follow him. They stomped off into the darkness.
After some time, Pig cursed. He and Phraa stomped off together, and only Srivo was left to guard me.
I almost screamed when something touched my shoulder, but a hand was already clapped over my mouth.
“Be silent.” The words tickled my ear, and when I twisted my head, I could not have been more surprised. The little hand over my mouth belonged to a scrawny girl of about twelve years old, four years younger than I was. She had thin cheeks and was more than a bit dirty, but there was no doubt she was a girl, a little bright-eyed girl. Blue eyes, turned up nose, pointed chin – she’d be pretty in a few years.
I nodded that I would be silent, and she took her hand away from my mouth. She cut furiously at the rope around my wrists, one eye always on Srivo. He was looking away from the fire at an angle from me; he could see me, but he wasn’t watching me. She whispered in my ear, “Slide to your left very slowly. Then back from the fire into the shadows.”
My mouth felt dry with fear, but I did exactly as she said. Srivo watched for his fellows, and he didn’t notice when I slowly and carefully edged out of the firelight. The girl took my wrist and pulled me through the shadows, her own steps very quiet and mine not too loud. She hissed at me once to be more careful, but Srivo didn’t hear it.
Finally we stopped at the edge of a little clearing, the moonlight silvering everything. “Cai?” she whispered.
“Here.” It was a boy, perhaps a year or two older than the girl.
My rescuers were children?
“Who are you?” I didn’t mean the question to sound quite as contemptuous as it did.
The girl raised her chin. “I am Captain Gallant, and this is my loyal servant Valor.”
The boy rolled his eyes as he drew closer. “Lieutenant. I’m a lieutenant.”
“Fine. Lieutenant Valor.” She bowed to me with a mocking grin. The bow was actually almost decent, considering she was a girl and a child, but it looked absurd coming from her. “We’re playing heroes, and you are the hapless victim who has been set upon by vicious bandits. If you do as we say, you’ll get back home safely.”
I blinked. “What?”
The girl rolled her eyes and looked at the boy. “This will be difficult. He’s a stupid one.” Then back at me, slowly, as though speaking to a simpleton, “We. Are. Playing. A game. Follow directions.” Then, because she looked like she couldn’t maintain that kind of condescension for long, she asked quickly, “Understand? Good. Where do you live?”
My mind still felt fuzzy, but that at least I had remembered. “Glemcanso House.”
The boy let out a long breath, and the girl muttered, “I should have known.” Then louder, mocking, “Out late? What will your mother say?”
It was my turn to bristle. “What of you? You’re both younger than I am!”
“We don’t get ourselves caught by bandits though, do we?” The girl grinned impishly. “Come on then.”
We tramped through the woods, and I gradually got my bearings. My head still hurt abominably, and I found a tender bump behind my right ear. My shoulders also hurt, and my split lip felt puffy. What was I doing out so late? I’d been hunting, and then…. what? Oh, I’d been riding by Lord Jalo’s estate to see if his daughter was in. She wasn’t.
Probably wouldn’t ever be in for me, if I was honest.
I nearly ran into “Captain Gallant” when she stopped suddenly. There was a great deal of shouting from behind us, and she grabbed my wrist and pulled me on through the darkness under the trees.
Things would have gone well except that I tripped over something in the darkness, a root I imagine, and it twisted my ankle badly. I cried out when I fell.
The girl jerked at my arm and hissed, “Fool!” Then “Cai, take him on. I’ll meet you on the road.”
Then she took off through the woods back toward our pursuers. Cai took my wrist and started running.
“You’re just going to let her go?” My voice felt high with fright and breathlessness, and I was limping, trying not to cry with each step.
He whirled on me. “You don’t know my sister! Come on!”
I was breathless and panting, the voices closer behind us. Someone was nearly on our heels, the crashing of a heavy body through the woods terrifyingly close.
I finally found a bit of courage, the first I’d had all night. I stopped suddenly, jerking Cai to a halt. “No! She’s a girl! She shouldn’t face them alone.”
He whispered savagely, “Idiot! You’re only making it worse!” Then his eyes flicked behind me, and I saw naked fear for a split second before he yanked on my arm again. “Come on!”
It was too late. Srivo got his hand on the back of my jacket, the collar catching me hard in the throat. The sudden jerk sent me sprawling, half-choking, into the leaves on the forest floor.