Lively people filled the open market, a seamless ocean of interaction on a common day sweltering like any other. At the farthest corners were jovial drunkards at the local pubs, mightily red in the face, and mightily laughing, their loud barks of enjoyment like a background noise of unsteady drums. Children marched, fell, cried and screamed in delight as they tend to, messing around with frantic parents chasing them about. Elders sat at the sides of the market, some entertaining and some being entertained. Merchants flailed wildly and yelled over the noise about this amazing product in their hands, that in reality, was most likely only just an ordinary product. Bags filled with an variety of things were being toted this way and that, the weekly groceries being scooped up in a hustling manner.
For those from lesser townsides, or the country, it could be an amazing sight of the vastness, of the largeness of the modernized area, of the freedom and electric way the interactions all seemed to flow, of the magnetic laughter that came from so many sources, so much and breathy it was. Perhaps, the city dwellers wouldn’t be impressed by the rambunctious people, the common goods being sold, or the number of people that the market contained.
Most all could be awed, however, by the sight of an impressive calvary hurling themselves about, breaking up the market in a heartbeat, the thunderous crashing hooves of horses and angry, violent orders being given in a most unhappy, silver spoon manner. “Capture the boy thief, and with lethal force!”
A smallish boy came through the panicking people in a bumbling burst, desperately weaving in and out of the crowd like a hunted weasel. He was never still and his movements slippery, although perhaps not smooth as it would suggest but rather more clumsy, precarious, and hopeless.
The hot breath of horses burned the skin of the boy’s nape, sweat drenching his back so much that he felt that it was all he was. His fumbling steps were a hair’s width from the mob of king’s men behind him. It was more than a miracle he hadn’t been trampled to bits and pieces yet. His eyes were swimming with exhaustion and it was a some time back that he stopped having sensation in his body. With a feeling of most certain finality, he knew everything would be over soon. And with the way things were going, the finality that he felt was most likely his final breath.
Thankfully for the young thief, he was pulled into a cramped alleyway right before they managed to catch him. So very much so, one of the riders in the front was shouting in victory, before looking at his hands and discovering in his grasp was not a boy, but a ordinary purse.
The chaotic cavalry was entirely confused as they regrouped, albeit poorly and very loudly. Likewise, the boy was also very, very confused. To the extent that his little head was absolutely blank, unable to process that he was being dragged away from a sea of trouble by a tall, gangly man who seemed as thin as a string. He kept murmuring ‘this way, this way’ like a protective mantra. The boy didn’t think the man did this often- the larger, boney hand around his was clammy and twitchy, with man himself as tense as a brick, rigid with nervousness and seemingly ready to snap, to shatter in his intensity.
In their manic run through the emptying streets, the boy did his best rushed investigation of the person. They seemed in a similar state to himself, surprisingly. A face gaunt from a lack of nutrition and sleep, with clunky glasses somehow staying on stubbornly. A baby beard attached and growing, much more than a generous 5 o’clock shadow and not taken care of- the shabby man had to be no older than his early twenties, and his unhealthy state probably made him look older than he probably was. His body looked frail and he was wearing a lab coat- a doctor, or something similar? The man was in such a messy state that the boy felt it was unlikely there was much money flowing around him. Perhaps a villager doctor, or common medicine man. Pale to almost a translucent level and the boy couldn’t help but wonder if the man was okay.
The boy shook his head. A thought like that at a time like this was absolutely unbeneficial to him, he knew. Survival first and foremost. He could have these thoughts later.
They ran hard for a long time through some alleyways that even the boy didn’t know existed. They squeezed through brick enclosures and ran and ran and ran- somehow, even with all their short cuts and footwork, the soldiers seemed to be lurking too near for comfort.
The boy honestly started to wonder if they were going in circles. Marketside never seemed too big or maze-like until just then, with so many buildings so much larger than him, and they were all beginning to look the same- everything around them was blurring together, and the boy was surprised when they slowed down at a corner and the world became legible again, after greedily taking in air and regaining his composure. The man finally faced him, giving him an oddly warm smile. “I’m going to need you to put on my jacket for a moment. To get to my house, where you can rest till nightfall, you’ll need to disguise yourself for a moment. That way the-”
“-soldiers won’t become suspicious, right? Got it.” The man seemed a little startled by the boy’s abruptness, but easily went back to his previous demeanor and handed him the sweaty, dank white coat.
While trying to disguise himself the best he could with the coat, his body became aware that his hand felt strange without the contact, after being held for so long. It had been a while since he had human contact. The effect was puzzling as it was useless, so he filed it away.
They worked together well, and the two seemed to pull off the act of an elder man being assisted home, the nearby soldier being none the wiser as they closed the door behind them.