Amidst the middling midday hustle of a run-down rural market, a pair of hungry eyes lusted after a rack of fresh fish.
Set in a face caked in mud and grime, the sharp violet stare of the scrawny girl scarcely wavered for a moment. Her mind was filled of daydreams about how it might feel to have a full belly. The fish called to her, weary as she was of gnawing on bark and leaves, and her stomach answered the summons with relentless rumbling. Her face twisted in discomfort.
Swallowing hard, the girl got to her feet and weaved around wandering shoppers. As she approached the fish rack, she glanced up at folk very intent on avoiding her gaze. Even the fishmonger did his best to ignore her as she neared his stand, paying her mind only when it looked as though she might dare to dirty the day’s catch.
“Oi!” shouted the fishmonger, and the violet-eyed girl recoiled. “You step on back, y’hear? I’ll not have you sully me stock.”
“P-please,” whimpered the urchin. “One?”
The fishmonger scoffed. “Got coin?”
“Get me some coin, and you get a fish. Elsewise, get away!”
He shooed her off, but the girl didn’t budge. She swallowed hard once more. Her fingers crept toward a hanging cod. “Please,” she uttered again.
The fishmonger snarled, then rounded his stand to forcefully grip her wrist. “Touch my fish, and this hand comes with me!” he threatened her furiously.
The girl whined and whimpered, grasping weakly at the fisher’s waist as he jerked her about. He shoved her to the ground and glowered down while the unfed urchin fled. Confident that he’d made his point quite clear, the fishmonger returned to his stand. Alas, he proved not to be quite done with the grimy girl after all.
As he brushed himself off to clear his clothes of her filth, the fishmonger realized that a vital possession was missing from his person. A wave of virulent rage seized his features, and he stormed after the orphan.
Catching her by the shoulder, he spun her about and jabbed her square on the nose. The girl let out a pained yelp and crumpled to the ground in a heap: a heap that the fishmonger searched until he retrieved a small pouch full of his hard-earned coin.
Securing it to his belt anew, he stared daggers at the quivering thief. “Denied a handout, you sink to stealing,” the crusty monger seethed. “Typical orphan filth. Find a trade or find a pit t’ go rot in. I see you near me stand again, ’n the good Lord’s guard’ll hear of it!”
He spat on the girl as a final insult before leaving her there in the dirt. She lay there clutching her bruised face in her hands, unwilling to move until he was far away lest she incur his wrath again.
Or so she would have him believe.
Indeed, she took some time to rest, doing her best to staunch the flow of blood. She tore off a bit of her ragged shirt and pressed it against her nostrils, but withdrew the cloth quickly when the pain proved too great. Her brows lifted as she eyed the result: a bloody smear that seemed to shine with ephemeral golden light. She focused in as the gleam came and went. Her blood flashed three times more.
Taken aback, the girl forgot herself and looked around to see if anyone else noticed the glimmer. Her eyes glazed over. No such luck. She remained as invisible as ever. Several strangers took care to step around or over her without paying her any mind. None looked upon her as she finally stirred. No one offered her a helping hand.
But vitally, no one noticed as she reached into her rags and produced six silver coins. She’d secreted them away in anticipation of the fishmonger’s fierce reprisal.
A small part of her took exception to her thievery; the crime had earned her father a trip to the gallows. He hadn’t done it, lukewarm as he was, too bumbling to pull off a grab. Too bumbling as well to prove his innocence after he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It hadn’t helped that their oh-so-great Lord was quick to condemn criminals and fools alike.
Though wisdom dictated that she should take her prize far away to trade for a meal, it was spite that held greater sway in her heart. Thus did she bitterly brush aside the matter of her gleaming blood. She rose from the dirt and stubbornly walked the path back through the market. She sought to wander near the fishmonger’s stand, and in no time at all, she had.
Seeing her father hang had hardened her, and now, she was left to exhibit by necessity the cunning and callousness he’d lacked. Dishonorable? Certainly. But as she slapped her six silvers down on the stand opposite the hanging fish--as she filled her belly of the small shank of rabbit her ill-gotten gains had afforded her--she could not move herself to guilt.
Instead, she reveled in her spite, her violet eyes filled of malice as she focused them on the fishmonger. She gorged herself like the savage she’d become, bite by ravenous bite. And when she caught his eye and saw his recognition of the means by which she’d earned her meal, the victorious urchin coldly flashed a wicked, messy grin.