Silurian hung his head between his knees in despair, his arms slumped between his legs. How long he sat there he didn’t know, but the squeak of a young girl’s voice broke through his melancholy. A grimy-faced girl, no more than eight, clad in a simple, tattered, brown tunic cinched about her tiny waist with a frayed length of filthy twine stood before the farmer’s table. He smiled at her pretty face hidden with dirt as she shyly placed her order. The merchant gave her a skeptical look. The girl produced a tiny burlap pouch bound by another piece of twine. Plunking it proudly upon the table, her face beaming, she proclaimed, “I have money.” The merchant grunted, turning to his cart to assemble her order. While the farmer’s back was to the table, a huge man approached. He bumped into the girl, almost knocking her to the ground. The girl shrank away from the malodorous man. Silurian could smell the putrid stench of sweat from where he sat. The farmer glanced over his shoulder, surprised to find the large man where the girl had been. Raising his eyebrows at the large man, the farmer placed part of the girl’s order on the table, gave the newcomer a slight nod, and turned back to assemble the rest of the order. While the farmer worked away, Silurian watched the man sneak the girl’s order into his pockets, and walk away. Silurian gaped. The farmer placed the remainder of the girl’s order upon the table and frowned, wondering what had happened to the first part. He shot her an angry glare. “Where’d ya put it?” The girl’s happy face transformed into panic. “But sir, I haven’t stoled yer food. I don’t know wer’d it git.” The farmer rounded the table so fast the girl fell to her bottom in her haste to escape his advance. “Then why do ya run?” Frightened, she covered her face with dirty hands and began to cry. To Silurian’s surprise, the big man reappeared out of the milling crowd and approached the table, a sadistic grin on his face. “There be a problem ‘ere, good sir?” The farmer placed his fists on his hips. “Aye, there be a problem.” He pointed a sausage-sized finger at the weeping girl. “This lil bugger’s gone and stole me wares from ‘neath me nose.” “That so?” the large man said to the weeping girl. He shook his head. Placing a palm on his forehead, resting his elbow upon his upturned hand at his waist, he contemplated what to do. With an exasperated grunt, he slapped his thigh. “I don’t know what I’s ta do with this girl. I send her on a simple errand and she does this. This! Probably wanting ta keep a copper for herself, me thinks, eh?” Silurian looked to the table where the girl had placed her money. It was gone! While the large man talked to the farmer, Silurian watched the weeping girl remove her hands from her stricken face and crab walk away from the two men, her eyes filled with terror. She would probably get a whipping, at the very least, for her transgression. Poor child. “I tells ya what,” the big man said. “How ‘bout I look afta da bill?” He produced the very burlap money pouch the girl had placed upon the table earlier. “And I take her home an’ teach her a lesson, eh? No harm done, eh? Whadya say?” The farmer wasn’t happy, but neither did he want trouble with the brute. Still, he had a business to run. “Thieves are to be losing a hand in these parts. I have a livin’ to see to, ya know.” The large man held up his hands. “I hears ya. I hears ya. How’s ‘bout I throw in an extra copper fer yer troubles, eh? How’s that soundin’ t’ ya?” He raised his eyebrows, giving the farmer a wink. “That way we all come away ‘appy like.” “Well...” It was the farmer’s turn to place a palm to his forehead. He sighed. “Okay. Just this once. Next time I give ‘er over to the law.” The big man nodded with a grin and went to open the money pouch. “Hey! Give that back! That’s mine!” Both men turned in time to see the girl running at them. She swiped at the purse, grasping only air as the big man lifted the pouch above his head. She jumped at the man’s arm, but missed. The man backhanded her across the face with his free hand, sending her sprawling to the dirt. Blood trickled from her nose. The man began to count coppers into the farmer’s upturned palm. The girl sprang to her feet, and grabbed at the man’s thick forearm. “You give it back!” The brute grabbed her by the scruff of her tunic, pulling her backward. “I’ll deal with ye soon ‘nuff, lassy.” He sniggered. “Now keep yer fool yip shut.” He threw her so hard he nearly tore the shift from her body. She landed in the path of a heavily laden wagon that had to swerve hard to miss her. The driver cussed her up one side and down the other for having the gall to be thrown in front of his cart. He could have broken a spoke. She sat up, buried her face in her hands, and cried, “...my money...momma’s gonna flay me...dunno that man...my money...” Silurian was heartsick. The poor girl. ‘Momma’s gonna flay her.’ ‘Doesn’t know that man.’ A creepy feeling tingled his skin. He recalled what those men wanted with Melody. “What the...?” the big man exclaimed as Silurian snatched the pouch from his hand; the effort of doing so causing the money in the farmer’s hand to fly into the air. Before Silurian could take two steps, or even saw the blade, he felt it thump flat against his spine. The impact threw him face first into the street, knocking the wind from his lungs. He lost his purchase on the little bag in the process, the money pouch jangling to a halt ahead of him, coming to rest in a mud puddle. The little girl scrambled to her feet and pounced on the pouch, but before she could get up, a black leather boot stomped down hard. The large man bore his weight onto her delicate hand, forcing her to open her fingers to keep them from breaking. She screamed in pain, wriggling and pulling to no avail. Getting to her knees, she bit the man’s shin. “Why you little—” The brute declared, raising his other foot to smash her insolent face. “Hold!” A deep voice resonated beside the man, causing him to check his kick. Many in the busy street had gathered around, enjoying the spectacle unfolding in the market. All eyes turned to the newcomer. Gasps escaped the lips of some, while others dropped to one knee, whispering, “The prince.” The large man’s knuckles turned white, gripping his sword hard. His menacing glare displayed his hatred for the well-dressed man striding confidently up to him. Flowing, golden locks denoted him as Prince Malcolm Svelte, heir to the Ivory Throne. The large man spat on the ground. “Ye have no business here, Malcolm. Why don’t ye go hunt some poor fox, or whatever helpless creatures ye Spelts prey upon?” The prince ignored the man’s deliberate mispronunciation of his surname. He lifted his chin to indicate the girl on her knees. Tears smeared the filth coating her face; her damaged fingers cradled the remnants of the muddy pouch. “As opposed to what? Surely you can best someone bigger than she.” Snickers rippled through the crowd. The man cast an evil glance around him. The laughter stopped. He brought his glare to bear on the prince’s deep blue eyes. “Ye should hold yer tongue in these parts, I’d say. Ye are nae welcome amongst us lower class tripe, I’m thinkin’. If ye’re not careful, ye might find it is ye who is bested.” Gasps rippled amongst the crowd. Malcolm took a deliberate breath. He turned his attention to the farmer who watched on with indifference, large forearms folded across his chest. “Hail to you, good merchant. Tell me what event has brought the good people of Cliff Face to a standstill?” Malcolm spread his arms, turning first one way, and then the other, to include the rapidly growing crowd. The farmer gave the large man a sidelong glance before responding, “Well, me liege…” He gave an account of the events as he saw them, including the girl’s apparent theft. The large man rocked on his heels as the farmer related the story. A smug look crossed his face at the mention of the theft, and the unsolicited intervention of the stupid whelp sitting in the street trying to catch his breath. Prince Malcolm gave Silurian a fleeting glance. “There ye go, Mister Zephyr.” The large man spat on the ground. “Now why don’ ye leave us common folk alone an’ go an’ raze a country or something.” Titters filtered throughout the mob. Prince Malcolm stroked his blonde mustache. He stepped to the girl’s side. Kneeling before her, he inspected her battered hand. “Is that how it happened, little miss?” The girl, overwhelmed by the whole incident, pulled her hand away, shaking her head. Prince Malcolm stood up to face the farmer. “The girl denies your story.” The farmer unfolded his arms, spreading them wide. “Me liege, all I know is what happened. I placed her order on the table, turned me back, and it be gone.” The prince looked from the farmer to the girl dressed in rags, barely hiding her bony frame. “And she’s hiding these vegetables, where?” The farmer became flustered. “I don’t exactly know, me Lord. All I knows is what happened.” “Perhaps I can help, sire.” Silurian stood up, dusting off his clothes. The large man growled, baring his teeth. “Off with you whelp, afore I whack you with the edge of me sword!” Wary, Silurian walked up to the prince and took a knee. Staring at the ground, he declared. “I saw everything, my Lord.” The large man kicked Silurian in the ribs, knocking him to the ground, gasping for breath. Before Silurian hit the street, Prince Malcolm’s sword was beneath the brute’s chin, a metallic ring slowly dissipating into the air. The crowd held its breath. “If you strike another one of my subjects without my consent you’ll wish you were the fox,” Malcolm snarled, his face inches from the big man’s. “Understand? Tripe?” The man glared death at the prince. After a few tense moments, the prince lowered his sword. With an eye on the man, he bent at the knees to offer Silurian a hand. With a menacing look at the brute fidgeting before him, the prince asked. “Are you alright, young squire?” Silurian attempted a brave smile. “Aye, my liege. I’ll live, I reckon.” He gripped the prince’s hand and gained his feet, hugging his bruised ribs. The large man grunted his displeasure. He spat, barely missing Silurian’s shabby boots. The prince glared at him, as he addressed Silurian, “What is your name, son?” “Silurian, my lord. Silurian Mintaka, son of Zorn.” Zorn? Zorn Mintaka? He had heard that name before. Recently, in fact, but for the life of him he couldn’t place it. “It’s alright, son of Zorn. Speak your piece. You needn’t fear this man.” Silurian’s eyes darted between the prince’s blue eyes and the ruffian’s veined glare. “I, well, I mean her.” He struggled. The large man growled, the left side of his mouth baring chipped, yellow teeth. Silurian gulped. “The little girl there,” he pointed, “well, she ordered vegetables from the farmer. All of a sudden, this man comes along,” he couldn’t bring himself to point, “and talks with the farmer. When the farmer turned away, he stole the vegetables.” He winced, expecting to be hit again. The prince considered the fidgeting man in question. “What of it, man? Does the boy have the truth of the matter?” The man spat again, discomfort twisting his expression. “I imagine ye have already decided that of yer own accord. The real truth of the matter will be put to the sword, I do nae doubt. I was guilty in yer eyes afore ya ever tried me. What good is me word to one as righteous as ye?” The crowd exchanged astonished glances, incredulous that someone would even think of speaking to the heir of Zephyr like that. The prince shook his head. “No. I cannot convict you on the sole testimony of a young boy.” The large man smiled haughtily. The prince stroked the corners of his mouth. He looked at the girl. There was no possible way she hid anything in her threadbare attire. “Empty your pockets,” Malcolm said calmly. The large man’s eyes gaped. “What?” The prince regarded him coldly. “You heard me. Empty your pockets.” The man shook his head, outraged. Eying the prince’s sword, he turned his pants pockets inside out. Dirt and lint fell to the street. The prince smiled. “And the pockets lining your tunic.” The man shook his head in disgust. Again, he turned out empty pockets. The prince rubbed his lower lip with a loose fist, at a loss on to how to proceed. The large man lied, of that Malcolm held little doubt, but without evidence he had no authority to condemn him. The large man sheathed his sword. “Now, if you don’t suspect me of witchcraft, I shall be on my way.” He shouldered past Malcolm, showing no regard for the money left on the table. He stole a quick glance at Silurian, his look promising the boy he would rue this day. The prince pursed his lips in thought. Why would the man walk away and leave his money on the table? He considered the girl. She couldn’t have hidden the vegetables, but he knew the farmer would demand retribution. It was plain she could ill afford to pay for something she hadn’t received. “Say, good farmer, how much—” “Sire!” Silurian pointed to a gap in the crowd. Malcolm turned in time to see the large man grab a bulging sack from a tall, skinny man leaning against a dun colored building across the street. Malcolm scowled, setting off with large strides. “Hey! You two! Stop!” The large man offered the prince a cavalier smile before bolting away.
All cover designs and most pictures are the wonderful artwork of mARCO pENNACCHIETTI. To see more of his ARTWORK, PLEASE VISIT HIS WEBSITE OR CONTACT HIM DIRECTLY THROUGH HIS LISTED EMAIL.