He would love to have stayed behind, to experience the feather mattress once more, to have a bath and eat the lovely roast chicken and potatoes and bread Davin had promised could be brought to him every night. He could not return to the orphan's home now, not after experiencing fine life in the Citadel. Baeillian stared hopelessly at the expanse of black before him. The gates to the upper circle were shut tight, but there was always a crevice through which a small boy could slip through.
'Gníomhaichtaí a athrú!'
Behind him, the gates were teaming with life as the guard changed with its usual ceremony. Much as he would love to have watched, Baeillian hurried on. To be out of this place, for good, away from enemies, was what he needed most.
'Bheith ar aire, bheith ullamh!'
The clamour of the guards faded slowly into the background. No longer worried about being seen or followed, Baeillian broke into a brisk run. He was out of breath long after the third circle. The children's home, by some ill-fated stroke of luck, was just below in the second circle, which meant he would have to travel lower still, to the very first.
Pulling his tiny frame through a drainage hole in the wall, Baeillian took a deep breath, and stepped out into the dingy streets of the Lower City.
Boromir of Gondor was not a hunter. Large, bulky, and full of air, he could no more hunt than sew a dressing gown. The Lower City was just ahead, the entrance to the second level lit dimly by flickering lanterns. Above, a guard dozed noisily from his perch, and Boromir slipped forward into the dark.
This gate could not be cleared by any visible means, and waking the guard would take ages. The last gate had been sceptical of him as it was. He glanced forlornly at the gate once more, heavy boots pinching the tips of his toes in the cool night air, and the gods granted a stroke of fortune.
Just ahead, barely visible in the thick blanket of darkness that encompassed the city, a tiny body was pressed against the stone wall.
The sneaky little scoundrel!
Stealth, another of Boromir's weak points, required that he move with care. Not a loose stone could be stepped on, lest the boy take fright and run.
A skinny wrist shot out for the wall, but Boromir snatched it from the air midway, his fist clenched over bones that felt too tiny and fragile to be allowed. The boy shied away, raising the free arm to shield his face as he cringed.
'Le do thoil,' pleaded Baeillian, flinching as the grip on his wrist was tightened ever-so-slightly. 'Please, lord, please, let go of me.'
He almost did. Almost.
The boy turned his pathetic eyes upward, long lashes fluttering nervously, and Boromir was transported back, ages back, to another little boy with those same, pleading eyes.
'What have you stolen?' he breathed, his face centimetres from the child's trembling lashes.
'Please,' said Baeillian again. He thought once of Lord Faramir and the feather mattress. Of Davin, and Deaglan, and the lovely food that never stopped delivering itself to his door at mealtimes. A level below lay the orphan's home. Below. That was his lot in life. His features hardened, lips twisting into a snarl, and Boromir let go. 'Go raibh maith agat, ah Thiarna. Go rabh míla maith agat.'
Lord Boromir of Gondor, who won every arguement by mere force of will, who could not be matched in a test of strength, watched the tiny body clamber through a drainage hole and turned back toward the Citadel, toward home.
Ruben Slate was a dishonest man. He knew it, his mother knew it, his wife knew it. He stole, and lied, and cheated the Steward's ration programme far too often to be considered decent or honourable in any sense of the word. Ruben hated work of any kind, but made a point to stroll through each level of the Lower City on a daily basis, nicking bread and meat and exotic fruits - none of which could be afforded on his wife's meagre salary washing clothes.
At the moment, Slate was heading back home, pockets loaded with gold from a long night at the dice, his head swimming pleasantly. He swayed, caught mid-way through an old soldier's song he had picked up in a brothel and knocked into something very small. Small and solid.
Ruben was drunk.
Baeillian was afraid.
'Whered'youthinkyergoin?' Words stuck together as if they had been coated in a thick layer of molasses. 'What'dyehthingyerdoin? Bumpinintameissit?'
To the honest, common man, these words would have been indistinguishable and passed off almost immediately as the drunken gibberish of a man in desperate need of a cold mug of tea, but to Baeillian, they were a threat. Baeillian understood Drunk, understood the dull anger burning in the man's incensed eyes, the curl to his greasy lips. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
'I'm walking,' he replied tartly. The man reeled back.
'Thasso? Where'dyerwalkinto? Yerwalkintomeareyeh?'
'No. I'm walking. Just walking.'
He kept his eyes trained fixedly on the man's shiny face. That was the trick to people who were bigger and stronger. They couldn't stand to be looked in the eye by a child. Ever.
Ruben Slate was no ordinary man. He was a dishonest man, and, unlike most dishonest men, was proud of his criminal activity and general dishonesty. He had no qualms about staring down a nine year-old. Nor, indeed, had he any problems swinging his fist into the air, poised to strike (albeit clumsily) at the boy's curly black head.
The swing missed by inches, and the hand was back. Panting, Baeillian tensed his body and waited. The drunk was slow, but strong. He had a purpose to his fists.
And as the fist came crashing down, as he felt the blow before it struck, Baeillian had an epiphany of sorts. Raising two skinny arms, he pushed the fist away. Ruben was strong, but he was drunk. Baeillian pushed with his entire body. Panting, sweating, his heart pounding. He pushed, and Ruben fell.
He did not need to hear the crack of bone on heavy rock to know that Ruben Slate would never again be a dishonest man. A dead man is no kind of man at all.