Chapter 2: Apple Orchards
The whole city was on edge for the next couple days. Vendors stopped coming and the vendors stuck in the capital had very few customers. The only people that would walk the streets were the guards and the kids who had no home to hide away in. No one was talking so I couldn’t get any information. Everyone was in the dark on what was really happening.
“It’s probably your fault,” Haroj said as he sat in my ‘house’.
“We’re doing this again?” I asked as I swung in my hammock, trying to forget the fact that Haroj was there.
“You were there, weren’t you?”
“Just because I was there doesn’t mean I started it.”
“Then what happened?”
“I’ve told you! I don’t know. Guys were chasing me and then they were about to kill me, boom, oil lamp poles caught on fire.”
“That sounds so fake.”
“Tell me, how would I light every single pole on fire? Hm?” I raised an eyebrow as I glared at him.
Haroj paused. “I’ll find out how.”
“You do that.”
Haroj didn’t move. “Did you knock one over?”
“I was being held down by a man twice my size in the middle of the road. No. Besides, how would I knock over the ones at the opposite side of the capital?”
“One could’ve knocked one down then the next.”
“No. The answer is ‘no’. Everything you try to connect to me? It’s going to be wrong.”
“You sure you didn’t knock one over?”
“I’m sure, Haroj.”
“You have to to prove it to me.”
“Great. What I’ve always wanted to do with my life: prove something to you.”
“Ha ha. Speaking of things you have to do, the kids are getting really hungry. You have to do something about it.”
“Why does it always have to be me? Why can’t you do something about it?”
“Only by-uh-not much!”
“Kaira, go do the thing!”
“What thing?! What are you talking about?!”
“I don’t know, but do it anyway.”
“I’m not going until you say ‘yes’.” Haroj sat down in my ‘house’.
“What’ll you do when you have to go to the bathroom?” I sneered.
“I’ll go right here,” Haroj threatened.
“FINE, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!”
“Thank you, Kaira!” The little kids flocked around me, but the older kids stayed a little behind, but never stopped thanking me. We were stopped at the gate by three guards.
“Halt. What is your business?” The lead guard said at the gate asked. That was weird. They usually never stop people from going out. It’s always in.
“We’re going to the apple orchards. Is that okay?” I asked dryly.
“Don’t eat too many apples, you might ruin your dinners,” the guards joked with the children. The children looked confused by the word ‘dinner’. His attention turned to me. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Go on then,” the guard said as he was about to let us through. The one of the other guards opened up the gate.
“Wait. Are there any sixteen year old males among them?” One of the other guards asked.
I looked around our group. I was the oldest, Haroj was a couple years younger than me. “Nope.”
“Alright, then. Have a nice day,” the guards waved good-bye.
“They’re nice,” one of the girls sing-songed.
“I guess you’re right. Maybe you should learn something from them Haroj,” I said.
“I am going to stab you in your sleep.” Haroj glared at me.
“My point exactly.”
“Now try not to fall down and break your necks,” Haroj called to the kids in the trees. “No, seriously. I don’t want to clean up dead children.”
They squealed with delight as they ignored Haroj as they ran around the apple orchard like pigs on fire.
“Thanks, Kaira!” several of them said to me. Again.
“They’re so filthy,” said a nearby woman in an irritated tone. I glared at her. But that was a waste of energy because she was too busy complaining to actually notice.
“Kaira? What’s wrong?” A little boy asked me.
“That lady isn’t being nice.” I glared at the woman once more.
“Kaira,” Haroj called out. “Guards are coming.”
“This is a public place. We’re doing nothing illegal, I think.” I said.
“I meant the Fire Seeker’s guards. That means he’s coming here, which means we have to bow.” He rolled his eyes.
“Fine, come on guys. Bow like me,” I sighed reluctantly. All of the alleyway children came up next to me and bowed exactly like I did.
“How long?” One little boy said.
“Until the big scary men have gone past us,” I said.
“Okay!” They all chimed. Some of the guards passed us without even looking down at us. Most paid attention and nodded. Some even smiled.
“Stop!” I heard the Fire Seeker call out. I looked up, but I couldn’t see him, and he couldn’t see me. The guards were so tall and thick with armor, they created a wall between us. I felt the itch to just run, just to get away. But I couldn’t break formation in front of the guards.
“What is it?” The guards looked at him.
There was a long stretch of silence before he spoke again. “I’m not sure. Carry on,” he said.
“Can we stand up now?” kids asked after the Fire Seeker was gone.
“Yep. Now go play before it gets dark out,” I said and they all dispersed once again. I watched the guards walk away pausing every so often. After a little bit, I distanced myself away from them.
“Kaira. It’s getting dark,” Haroj warned me. I looked to the sun and it was red. Not yellow. Because it was setting. I looked at the kids, who were basically sleeping while standing up.
“Come on guys. Time to get back to the alleyways,” I said. They all trudged toward me, reluctant on going from this safe haven that had granted them food without charge or threat of their lives. “Come on. You guys’ll feel better after a goods night rest.” I pushed them forward.
“Yes, Kaira,” they all chimed wearily.
“That’s the spirit. Now let’s get back before sundown.” I lead the charge.
“Kaira. Look at those,” Haroj motioned with his chin toward the top of the wall. I looked up and there were twice as many guards on top of the walls, watching the city. Not the outside for robbers or bad guys, oh no. They were watching the city and everyone in there. And they probably weren’t doing that for our safety.
“What are they doing?” One of the kids yawned.
“Being dumb,” I explained.
“Night, Kaira,” one of the kids sighed as they made themselves comfortable in my house. They all decided that they would rather be squished together in my ‘house’ than sleep outside in the rain.
“Shut up and go to sleep,” I said as I curled up to contain my warmth. I was pleasantly surprised that the cloth roof held up.
“Yes, Kaira,” the kid giggled before falling asleep. I closed my eyes and focused on the sounds of the droplets of water hitting my tarp.
“Hey Kaira?” Haroj called out my name.
“What?” I mumbled back.
“Why’d you take all of us to the apple orchard?” Haroj asked
“Did you forget?” I whipped my head to look at him.
“Forget what?” Haroj stammered, surprised at my sudden actions.
“You threatened to piss on my floor!” I yelled at him. Several children laughed as Haroj blushed. “Now go to sleep. I’m tired.”
“Market’s still out,” Haroj commented the next day. We all stared at the empty street. There wasn’t even a mouse scrambling for dropped food, even if it was stale. Usually the market was full when the sun started to rise, but not that day.
“Shoot. Guess we’ll have to go to the apple orchard again,” I said. The alleyway kids behind me cheered. I walked out and the children flocked around me again. People peeked out their window to make sure we weren’t Fire Seeker guards or whatever.
“What the hell is their problem?” Haroj hissed as the adults watched us warily.
“They’re scared or something. I dunno.” I shrugged.
“Kaira. What’s with all of those metal men?” one of the little girls asked me.
I looked up to see the swarm of guards coming by. “Of course they had to come by. Just keep walking. They’re not people you want to mess with,” I said.
“Right,” they all chimed. As we passed the guards, the air turned tense. I felt the cloth of my trousers being pulled in several directions. I looked down and saw that those kids were scrambling to hold onto something.
“Kaira, I’m scared,” one of the little kids sniffed as we still passed the guards.
“Don’t show it. That’ll make them more powerful,” I said. Once the guards left us completely behind, the tension somewhat melted.
“Damn! That line was forever! How many damn guards were there?!” Haroj hissed after we watched the last guard walked out of earshot.
“A lot,” I said.
“Thank you, that was so informative,” Haroj rolled his eyes.
“That’s what I’m here for,” I smiled.
“I am going to hurt you,” Haroj growled.
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“These are more delicious than yesterday’s!” several of them said. I grabbed one of the apples, and they indeed were sweeter than the ones from yesterday. I finished the whole apple as fast as I could.
“These are the best apples I’ve ever had!” I shouted as I reached for another one. Haroj noticed my actions and grabbed one for himself. He had the same reaction as me and reached for another one.
“Hey, stop doing that!” Haroj said as they started to throw the apples at each other.
“Aw, come on. Let them do what they want,” I said as I climbed the tree to get more apples. I smirked at Haroj while I ate the apple right in front of him.
“You’re only saying that because you can’t get hit,” Haroj rolled his eyes.
I giggled as I bit into the apple again and reached for another one. “Eat this. You get crankier when you’re hungry.” I threw the apple down at him. Haroj grumbled but ate the apple anyway. He turned away to yell at the other kids. I shook my head as I watched Haroj chasing the other kids after they threw an apple at his head. I howled with laugher as Haroj flew into the air because he tried to avoid a little boy that fell right in front of him. After a while of them just playing, I settled down in the tree, nearly dozing off. . .
. . .but of course, nothing ever works that way.
“What? What I miss?” I mumbled to myself after a scream rang out. I looked over to where the scream came from. There was a group of girls backing away from that annoying woman from the other day. When I was able to actually focus, I saw that the annoying woman was pulling on one of the girls’ hair.
“How dare you bump into me! I should make you pay to get the dress cleaned” the woman screeched.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” the girl cried out. The other girls all clung together, scared out of their wits.
“Let her go!” Haroj shouted. The woman raised her hand to hit and that’s when I had to act. I jumped down from the tree and ran right past Haroj and grabbed the woman’s arm. She stood still, trying to figure out where the hell I came from. Haroj was doing the same.
“Leave. Her. Alone,” I said slowly.
“Oh look, the mother rat’s here to protect her babies,” the woman sneered at me. I tightened my grip and she squealed like a pig. She struggled to get free but nah, I wasn’t letting her go. She eventually forgot about the first girl she was angry at and focused on me.
“Come here. Come here,” Haroj beckoned the girl to come over. The girl scrambled to her feet and ran over to Haroj, the other girls following as quickly as possible.
I heard the sound of clanking armor. Great. I looked over my shoulder, and I saw the Fire Seeker’s personal sea of soldiers walking the rounds once again.
“What are you gonna do, ya’ little rat?” The woman hissed. “Are you gonna let me go, and bow? Or are you going to keep holding my arm and blatantly disobey the system?”
“I’ll take the chance. They’re over there,” I shrugged.
“You won’t survive. They’ll kill you. They won’t care for little rats like you. You’re dirt compared to him. You’re nothing! You are below dirt! You’re below nothing to them!” The woman was desperate to get me away. Dare I say, she was afraid of me. Shocking, I know. Who would be afraid of an orphan? A rat? A rat that had to bow or face punishment because of a screwed up system? A rat that
“Look at the trees!” a little kid cried out, providing a perfect distraction. The woman and I looked up to see falling leaves. That wouldn’t be so bad, only the falling leaves were on freaking fire! What the actual hell? The kids were running away from the trees. I stared as it was almost literally gently raining fire. Soon all the leaves went up in smoke and the chaos just became worse as people tried to cover their mouths or stay away from the smoke. I let go of the woman and watched as the smoke snake its way through the trees.
“This is definitely him. He is here! Find him! Find him!” I heard the Fire Seeker shout, breaking into my thoughts. The soldiers spread throughout the park like a plague. They were infiltrating every speck of the park and interrogating every single breathing thing they could find.
“How old are you?”
“Did you see a sixteen year old male around here?”
“Did you see any fire around here lately?”
The annoying woman couldn’t comprehend the fact that she wasn’t the guards’ main focus and started to scream like the baby she was when she didn’t get the attention she thought she deserved. I quickly got away from her, but not too quickly otherwise that would make the guards suspicious. One guard walked over to her. “Finally! Someone came! Here I though guards lost their minds,” the woman huffed.
“Ma’am, how did you get this burn?” The guard didn’t seem to care.
Burn? What burn? I looked over to the annoyingly crazy woman and saw that there was indeed a burn. How the hell did I miss that? It spanned almost her entire forearm.
“It was that awful, awful girl! She’s so coarse and ugly and just not human! Go find her and arrest her!” the crazy woman blubbered. It was hard to watch.
“Fire Seeker!” The guard shouted.
“I heard. Her?” The Fire Seeker repeated crazy lady’s words.
“Yes. Her. It was a girl, raggedy clothes, quite ugly, oh yes. She is a rat, probably the filthiest rat of them all,” the woman huffed snootily. Yeah, I needed to go somewhere that wasn’t right there. Good thing the crazy woman was like those other girls in the capital and was completely focused on the dumbass’ face. Just to be on the safe side, I hid behind a tree facing away from them.
“’Rat?’” the Fire Seeker repeated.
“Yes. An orphan. Disgusting creatures really,” the woman sniffed. She was trying her damnedest to get the Fire Seeker to feel sorry for her, which wasn’t too hard.
“I see. Thank you.” You could taste the apathy in his voice. The woman started to stutter, probably thinking that would keep him there. Ha ha, nope. I could hear the Fire Seeker talk to his guards, completely ignoring the woman. “Call Lord Sorak, Lord Bragor and Lord Ilidecian. I need to talk to them tonight.” With that, he was gone, sort of. He was gone in the sense that no person could get to him through all those damn guards. So basically, he was gone. The annoying woman was still on the ground, still trying to get his attention.
It was kinda sad, really.
“What are you doing here?” Haroj raised an eyebrow.
“Trying to avoid that woman. What does it look like I’m doing?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Being stupid.” Haroj rolled his eyes.
“Isn’t that what you do?” I smiled. Haroj kicked me over. “Hey!”
“There she is! FIRE SEEKER! FIRE SEEKER! THERE’S THE WOMAN WHO BURNED ME!” The woman yelled hysterically. All of the guards stopped to look at each other, then to me, then back to each other, then to the Fire Seeker, then back to the woman, then back at me.
“Go investigate,” I heard the Fire Seeker call out.
“I blame you,” I said to Haroj as I started to subtly drift away from the guards with Haroj. They started to walk towards faster, and I started to drift away faster. We were stuck in that cycle until I just broke out into a sprint, leaving Haroj behind.
“HEY!” One the guards shouted. I heard the clanks of their armor following me. Their armor was really clanky and heavy, which made it extremely easy for me to run from them. Then the amount of clanks increased. More guards. More things to run from. Greeeeeeeaaat.
“Kaira! This way!” I heard Haroj shout, but he pointed in the exact opposite direction. Wow, he really was trying to get me killed! Didn’t know he had it in him. Then I noticed the clanks started to grow fainter. Okay, Haroj didn’t want me dead. I ducked behind a tree. I hoped laying low and holding my breath would somehow make them go away. However, I still heard footsteps. I couldn’t look out to see who it was, but it definitely did not sound like a guard: too quiet. I knew it wasn’t a kid because the footsteps were too heavy. The only logical conclusion: a bear. Or the Fire Seeker, but mainly the bear thing.
“Fire Seeker, sir! Lord Sorak is here for you!” It wasn’t a bear. Damn it.
There was a pause.
I couldn’t risk moving at all. That Fire Seeker asshole seemed to be the kind of person who could just smell movement. I don’t know, but he was dangerous.
“I understand. I’m on my way,” Fire Seeker walked away. “Alert the other guards, I want them to keep an eye out for this girl.”
He was going to be trouble.