Beneath the Crown

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Chapter 23

Zasrus

“My king, I’m not sure about this. I fear this will put you in unnecessary danger,” Rein said to me as I scratched at the fake beard I had glued to my face.

The old torn clothes I wore smelled of stale beer and dirt and the mud on my face made me itch.

“It’s alright, Rein. No one is going to recognize me. I’m just another regular man, walking around the market.”

“A regular man with guards at his side?” Rein asked.

I looked over at him, and I could see the boy looked stressed. This was far beyond the normal behavior of a king, and in a way, I understood his worry.

No one knows who I am, therefore no one will know not to try to rob me, or kill me.

But that thought brought a smile to my face. I am no one. Just a man.

“That is why you and the others need to keep your distance. Follow us, but not too close.”

Rein nodded, but his worry didn’t ease.

“Yes, my king.”

“Do not call me that while we are at the market. If I need you, I will call for you.”

I turned to find Ash approaching. Her long silver hair tucked under the hood of her black coat. The long, knee-high boots she wore shaped around her legs and the strange tight blue pants making me smile like a fool.

“Good morning,” I said as she came to stand next to me.

“Oh wow, you look great,” She said with a bright smile, “Love the fuzz.”

“Fuzz?” I asked with a frown. She uses such strange words sometimes.

“Yeah, the beard. Looks good.”

I inspected my outfit one more time, and with a nod, we began walking towards the shuttle that would take us to the market.

I helped Ash get in and a few minutes later we were standing by the entrance arch to Sakala market.

I watched Ash’s eyes grow wide at the sight everything in front of her. They roamed over every stall, every storefront and over every being, big and small.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“It’s just like I imagined it would be.”

“Do you have your credit scan?”

She lifted her wrist and showed me the thick metal strap over her arm, “Yeah I do. Got it done this morning. Connie gave me her control bracelet to use today.”

“Good,” I said and leaned down to speak quieter to her, “Then if everything is in place, why do I feel so nervous to go in?”

She turned to me, “Because now you are one of them. Now you get to walk a day in the shoes of the people you only ever see through the veil of your crown.”

“Yes, I believe you are correct. A day I have wished for, for a long time.”

“Ready?” Ash asked me.

I nodded, “Yes. I believe I am.”

She smiled and hooked her arm in with mine, “Good, then let’s go mingle with the common folks.”

The moment I stepped off the stairs leading to the market, I was knocked by a man carrying a large bag on his back.

“Watch it, old man.” He said to me with a glare. He walked past and I smiled wide to myself.

Ash squeezed my arm, “Are you okay?”

I nodded with a wide smile, “Yes,”

People pushed and shoved past us, while others gave me disgusted looks. Others still watched me with suspicion.

I am one of them. I am a normal person. I have never felt this way before.

“What would you like to do?” Ash asked as she helped me navigate around the crowds of people.

“I . . . I don’t know. What would a common man do?”

She looked around the market, and when her eyes landed on the children’s fairgrounds, she smiled.

“Let’s go there,” she said pointing to the entrance of the fair.

I have never been to a fair. Not one that wasn’t closed for me and my brother to use alone.

I nodded and we made our way there. I smiled every time I was knocked, or bumped into. I even enjoyed having water splashed on my shoes from a woman cleaning her shop floor. She looked at me as though it were my fault for being on the street and in her way.

We entered the fairgrounds and as the music and lights of all the attractions demanded my attention in every direction, all I could focus on was Ash’s arm hooked in with mine.

I leaned down to speak to her, “What would you like to do first?” I asked

She ran her eyes over everything before she stopped on one.

“What is that?” She asked. I followed her gaze and saw a man with a game of Gravity.

“That game is called Gravity. Would you like to try it?”

She nodded, “Yeah, come on.”

We went over to the man hosting the game and when he looked me up and down, I wondered for a moment if he would recognize me from so close.

“You want to try your luck, old man?”

I grinned, “Yes.”

He nodded and held out his screen to pay for the game.

I realized that I still had my gold and silver credit band on, and showing him would give me away. Ash must have seen my hesitation because she held out her arm and paid for the game.

“How do you play this?” she asked as the five balls came rolling out onto the stand.

“I remember this from my childhood. These five balls are all of different weights. The trick is to get all five of them onto those platforms,” I said pointing to the five small floating platforms hovering a few feet away from us at eye level.

I picked up the first ball and steadied my shoulders. I felt the weight of it, then threw it to the platform. It landed on top, and the magnets kicked in to hold it in place.

“Yes!” Ash said as she clapped her hands next to me.

Now I must get them all.

I picked up the next one and did the same. When the ball landed on the platform, Ash again clapped.

I did this with all but the last ball. As I weighed it in my hands, I could feel this was the heaviest one of them all.

I took a step back, stretched my back and aimed. I took a quick glance at Ash, and the concentration on her face as she watched the platforms. I smiled and tossed the last ball.

It landed on its target and Ash jumped with joy as she cheered.

The vendor came over to us, “Not bad for a begger,” He said with a frown.

He went to the stall and pulled down a small cage. He came back to us, “But you are not playing this game again,” he said as he shoved the cage against my chest.

I turned my head to the side for a moment, contemplating if I should have this man lashed. Ash came to me and grabbed my arm, “Thank you,” she said to the vendor before she pulled me away.

“What did you win?” She asked, eyeing the cage.

I looked inside to see the tiny bluebird laying on a nest of grass. I let out a sigh, “A baby Rali.”

“What is that?”

“A common bird found on this planet. Vendors like that collect the young to use as prizes for games like this.”

“Shame, poor thing. Can we let it go?” she asked, looking into the cage at the tiny blue ball laying in the grass.

“Yes. These birds can fly from the moment they are born. You wish to release it?”

She nodded, “If that’s okay with you.”

I smiled, “I have an even better idea.”

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