Eliam’s mind raced as he dashed through the lantern-lit streets. The lanterns drenched the young thief’s face in a pale orange glow and caused his gray eyes to shine as if they’ve trapped tiny stars. The sweat that trailed down his face glistened, and quick breaths hitched passed his quivering lips. His dirtied bare feet burnt as they fled across the sand and granite that made up the city’s streets.
The desperate teen clutched to his small bag that swayed frantically in the night air. The stolen jewels clacked within the fabric, and his knuckles transitioned to a deathly white due to the profound hold he had around the worn cloth.
‘Hurry, hurry!’ Eliam thought to himself, gritting his teeth. He stole a glance behind him and saw the guards drawing near. Heavy armor shielded their bodies except for their muscle-bound arms that carried brass machetes and sickles. Their faces twisted with rage as their cheeks and forehead burnt red. Their lips tightened to firm lines before throwing accusations:
“Get back here, you little bastard!”
“Surrender at once!”
“We’ll have your head!”
‘Shit, how could I have been so stupid?’ Eliam asked himself.
‘I’ve done this so many times, why am I messing up now?’
Eliam jumped over a cart and ducked under canopies before turning a corner and entering another street. He passed the marketplace and entered a block of clay and stone houses. He climbed the wooden ladder of one house and kicked the ladder over once he reached the roof.
Eliam swallowed the cold night air and wiped sweat off his brow. His fingers brushed the scar that grazed his temple. He threw his head up to the sky and witnessed a shooting star flying overhead. For just that second, he wondered if he could simply fly away, but the thought didn’t last.
“He’s on the roof!”
Eliam’s head swerved to see the guards running into the house, never minding the startled residents as they raced to the roof.
“Shit,” Eliam muttered. He inhaled once more before he resumed his escape. He leaped to another roof and did the same with the following. Sprinting like a tiger against the night sky, a sense of triumph overcame the thief as a smile crossed his dry lips. His gray eyes brightened up when the full moon showered his face.
However, the moment fled when, as he was about to jump to another roof, the silver flash of an arrow ripped through the air and merely missed Eliam’s head.
Eliam had ducked and rolled to his stomach, adding more dirt and dust to his unkempt clothes. He staggered to his feet and witnessed a guard loading another arrow to his crossbow. The guard stood on another roof with his leg pressed onto the edge. He had a snarky grin on his face as he loaded the arrow, he nor any of the guards hesitated in their desire to kill a teen on the spot.
Eliam stepped back but miscalculated his footing and toppled over. He grabbed to a tapestry hanging over a balcony at the last moment, but his weight was too much and the tapestry broke off. Eliam landed in a trashcan with the tapestry draping over him.
“Ugh,” Eliam muttered as he threw off the tapestry and pulled himself out. He didn’t have time to brush off the trash as he clambered into another run. His legs ached, burning as if they were on fire, but he kept running as he heard more and more guards approaching. His heart thrashed against his chest, seconds away from either popping out or collapsing from exhaustion. His mind screamed for him to stop as it was getting too much.
‘I can’t go on like this.’ Eliam used his remaining stamina to reach a well behind a house. The well showed signs of age with cracked, weathered stones and a torn rope that drooped lazily over a chipped bucket. The teen sucked in more of the cool air as he dragged his tired, burnt feet towards the well.
Eliam’s feet stung each time he added weight to them, but he carried on regardless. The teen peered over the hole, a pure black void filled his vision. Eliam held out his hand where the bag dangled over it. The jewels clacked once more, ringing amongst the chilly breeze that passed by.
‘If I can’t get away with the jewels, no one will.’ Eliam’s fingers started to loosen, but before he could release it, the silver blade of a machete pressed into his throat.
“Don’t move,” a guard ordered in a gruff tone of voice. Eliam’s muscles stiffened when observing the guards marching in. They blocked every path he had to escape, including the roofs where they stood with crossbows aimed at him. Their weapons glistened from the moonlight. From blades to arrows, they pierced the dark veil of night.
The guards’ eyes held no traces of empathy as they scowled at the teen’s small and rigid form. As Eliam’s fingers involuntarily slipped from the bag, the more the blade pressed into his neck. A bead of blood crawled down his skin and Eliam winced. He managed to halt himself from furthering the act, glaring at his pursuer who smirked down at him. The guard showed off his rotten, yellow teeth with amusement dancing in his eyes.
‘Damn it.’ Eliam cursed and had no choice but to toss the bag into the sand. The jewels smacked together and one stumbled out of the bag. Another guard picked up the jewel and eyed the teen.
“Quite the clever lil’ thief, aren’t ya? Well, I guess you’re not so clever anymore.” The guard’s huge forefinger and thumb fiddled with the jewel. With one wrong move he could easily crush the delicate gem. Instead, he slipped the jewel within his belt and crossed his bulky arms over his chest. He towered over the teen like the rest of his comrades, and he spat out a ball of saliva right next to him. “Take him to the dungeon.”
The guard who held the blade at Eliam’s throat nodded. Before Eliam could make another move, the guard knocked him back and his head collided with the well. Everything went black.
“Ugh,” Eliam groaned as he feebly lifted his head. Moonlight slipped through a barred window and poured onto the teen’s shackled form. He couldn’t evoke much movement due to the chains that bound his arms. The iron seized his skin with an icy touch, and the more he tugged the tighter they clung.
Eliam’s eyes searched the small enclosure. It was a cell that smelt so terribly that the thief’s nose couldn’t stop twitching with disgust. He shut his mouth to prevent himself from gagging. It was if some poor fool had rotted in the next cell. The only thing separating the cells was a stone wall, and so Eliam was grateful that he couldn’t see the other side.
Though, it didn’t help with the smell. Eliam wished he could clasp his nose, but the chains prevented him from doing so. He could only groan in silent protest, and squeeze his mouth shut.
This is it, isn’t it? Eliam asked himself, questioning his fate. As he thought, the awful smell brought his head to spin, and he fought to stay focus. But dizziness clouded his mind and he couldn’t think straight.
It wasn’t until footsteps marched in the close distance, that Eliam snapped out of it. Eliam listened in to two voices that were drowned out by sharp footfalls. One voice belonged to the guard that arrested him, and he stated, “He’s right down here, sire.”
‘Sire?’ Eliam questioned, eyes amplified with trepidation. ‘No. Why would a royal be here?’
Eliam vainly tugged at the chains, and the chains mocked him with their rattling. He tugged again and again while the smell seemed to intensify. Bile crawled up his throat, but Eliam swallowed it.
Shadows danced upon the stone walls and two figures approached the torch lights. The person before the guard was a young man in his late teens, his black hair partially covered by a headdress flanked with jewels. He wore red robes that trailed to his beaded slippers, and gold pendants that drooped from his neck. The teen’s dark blue eyes stood out from his tanned skin, and they peered at the thief who sat there scrunched into the cell wall.
The guard stood by and gloated, “Thank the stars we finally caught this little brat. Been a real pain for years. So, when should his execution be? I’d say we do it soon, we haven’t had a good show in a while, and I’m sure the public would love to see this troublemaker meet his end!” The guard’s delighted voice bounced about the old stone walls, leaving an eerie echo. The prince on the other hand, only arched an eyebrow. To Eliam’s surprise, the prince didn’t appear as ecstatic as the guard who now clutched his stomach, as if readying himself to burst into a laugh. Instead, the prince’s face was free from all emotion besides indifference at the guard’s words.
“Could you answer me a question?” the prince asked the guard. His stoicism struck the guard baffled, but the latter responded, “Of course, sire, anything.”
“There’s a law that guarantees that all criminals are to be executed, no matter what crime they created…who created that law?”
“Your father, sire.”
“Is my father here?”
“So, answer me this—who’s in charge right now?”
“You are, sire.”
“Correct.” The prince praised the guard as if he was a child. “Now, since I don’t agree with that law, the thief will not be sentenced to death. Release him from his cell.”
“Wha—what!?” The guard’s face twisted to a depiction of perplexity as he stared in disbelief. “But, Prince Ira, that’s—”
“Do I have to repeat myself?” Ira asked, his tone suddenly became as cruel as the cold air that slipped through the walls’ cracks.
“N—no, please forgive me, sire.” The guard’s prideful stance shattered as he scrambled to retrieve the keys from his pocket. He pulled them out and worked on unlocking the door. Once he did so, he freed Eliam from the chains and hoisted him to his feet. Eliam staggered when the guard nudged him out of the cell, and the thief rubbed his wrists which ached from the chains. He yearned to spit at the guard, but his exhausted body could only sway as his mind grappled to comprehend what transpired.
A hand secured his posture, and it took Eliam several seconds too long to realize he was standing in front of the prince. Eliam immediately shrunk from the prince’s touch, and shrunk further when the guard’s voice broke out,
“Pardon me, sire,” the guard said with uncertainty straining his voice, “if you don’t want him executed, what will you do with him? Surely you can’t set him free. He’s a criminal and must pay for his crimes!”
“You’re right, he should pay,” Ira said.
Prince Ira stared down at Eliam. The thief tried to look away, but he wondered if the
prince would change his proposal if he did, so Eliam stared back and locked his gray eyes with
the prince’s blue ones. His eyes were akin to the night sky. The teen’s cheeks flushed with
embarrassment from staring.
Finally, Ira broke contact and faced the guard.
“He’ll become my servant,” Ira proposed.
“What?” Eliam asked, taken aback. His mouth fell slightly as he stared on.
“Wait, sire,” the guard stuttered. “If I may ask…why would you want this child, not to mention a thief, be your servant?”
“Why not?” Ira shrugged. “I’d like to teach him some discipline; perhaps a year will do it.”
“A year?” the guard repeated. “Sire, please think this through. You’re bringing a criminal into the palace; he’ll no doubt steal your riches and—”
“And if that happens, he’ll serve me longer,” Ira interjected. “Besides, I’m sure he’ll know not to do such a thing while under my eye.”
“Sire…” The guard tried to muster up something else to say but to no avail. He simply stared at the prince and thief questionably and stood there with a puzzled look. The look caused the prince to smile, and he said, “You may be excused. I’ll handle it from here.”
“My prince.” The guard bowed his head and headed back up the stairs with no more questions. Eliam sighed knowing that he was gone, but now there was the prince before him.
“Uh…” Eliam faltered, his mouth hanging agape once more. He stared at the prince as if he’d never heard a word in his lifetime.
“Do you have a name?” Prince Ira asked, his voice now calm and patient.
“E…Eliam,” the boy answered.
“’Eliam the Gray-Eyed Thief’, I’ve heard stories about you, I imagined you taller.” Prince Ira chuckled. “How old are you?”
Eliam glanced away. “I haven’t kept track. Why does it matter how old I am?”
“I’m simply curious, you appear younger than you say,” Prince Ira noted. “Though, I’d wager it’s due to not eating well enough. Have you lived on the streets all your life?”
Eliam fell quiet and ran fingers along his wrist. “No, but…” he trailed but ended right there.
“We should get to the palace before you catch a cold,” Ira suggested, “I certainly can’t have a servant that’s sick on the job.”
Eliam grimaced, however, he was grateful that the merciful prince had just saved his life.