Disclaimer: I do not own the Seer and the Sword or its characters.
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It had been seventeen years since the Sliviite Invasion had been defeated and King Vesputo of Archeld's treachery had been revealed. The kingdoms were prospering: King Dahmis's alliance was still strong, and Archeld and the newly resurrected Bellandra had merged with the marriage of Queen Torina and King Landen. The seers and mystic healers had returned, aided by Queen Torina. An uneasy truce had arisen between Sliviite and the members of the alliance. The events of seventeen years ago had slipped into the haze of memories.
Crouched in a forgotten alleyway in the slums of Archelda, a boy with emerald green eyes and hair of indeterminate colour, watched the people in the market pass by with a wary look. In his hand he clutched a half eaten drumstick that he had stolen from one of the vendors. He bit off a piece with his teeth and chewed it, his eyes scanning the market for the angry vendor who owned the drumstick.
A small, half-starved dog wandered into the alley. Its right ear was torn, and blood dribbled out of the teeth marks on its grey, matted, dirt-stained fur, most likely from another canine. The dog crawled into a corner of the alley and began licking its wounds.
The boy stood up and inched toward the dog. It was not long before the dog noticed, growled, and looked warily at the boy.
"Here, boy. I'm not gonna hurt you," the boy said as he inched closer. He ripped a large chink of meat off the drumstick and slowly offered it to the dog. The dog eyed him for a second, then snatched the chicken from his had.
"That's it." The boy whispered, as he slowly backed away from the dog.
The boy quickly finished the drumstick. His mother had named him Kestrad, meaning "One who carves his own path" in the naming language of her people, a tribe living far in the south. Slave traders had kidnapped his mother twenty years ago and sold into prostitution. Seventeen years ago his mother had given birth to him. The women in the brothel had raised him. As for his father, not even his mother knew who he was. When he was eight, his mother had fallen ill and died, and he was cast out on the streets. He had survived the past nine years by pick pocketing, using his cunning and intelligence to salvage enough food to survive. At one point, he had been taken under the wing of an older boy and had learned the skills essential for street life, but the older boy had died in a street fight with a gang.
Now he stole in order to survive, and did his best to not draw the attention of the gangs or the soldiers. It was a hard life, but he was used to it. He had never known anything else.
He stood up and walked back into the street, blending into the crowd of people. He threaded trough the stalls, making his way up the street. When he reached the marble fountain in the center of the square, he sat down, and closed his eyes. In the sun, the bruises that covered his body, a sign of his way of life, were clearly visible.
A few hours later, he was woken by a shout. He sat bolt upright, tensed for any trouble.
In front of him, a fight had broken out between a gang member and a well-dressed boy. They were exchanging kicks and punches, while a crowd gathered around them, shielding the two from the soldiers who were trying to stop the fight. The gang member was loosing, and the watchers knew it.
Then the gang member pulled out a knife and held it ready, a smirk on his face. The boy looked surprised. Clearly he had not realized that his opponent would cheat. Yet he still held his position.
Kestrad pushed forward in the crowd, trying to get a good look at the gang member. It was as he thought. He knew gang member, who was called the Scorpion by the street boys. The Scorpion was infamous for his brutal leadership of his gang, the Black Snakes, as well as his motto "win at all cost". The well-dressed boy was pretty brave for challenging the Scorpion. Brave, or foolish. He was in for it now, since it appeared as though he did not have a knife. Yet he still stood strong, without any sign of fear. Kestrad was impressed. The boy was clearly remarkable.
But that didn't change the fact that he was fighting against the Scorpion. Unarmed.
The Scorpion lunged at the boy, his knife cutting the boys arm. The blood welled from the cut. The boy ignored it, keeping a ready stance. The Scorpion lunged again, and the boy ducked. This continued for many minutes. The boy incurred several more cuts, but he ignored them all. Kestrad's admiration for the well-dressed boy grew.
The Scorpion lunged again, but this time, he wasn't aiming for his arms or legs. He was aiming for the boys' heart. The Scorpion intended to end the fight with a single survivor, and that was going to be him.
Without thinking, Kestrad launched himself onto the boy, knocking him down. The Scorpions blade nicked his arm, but he had suffered though worse. He rolled of the boy and got to his feet while preparing to melt into the crowd. The soldiers have finally managed to get to the scene and were helping the boy.
"I'll remember your face, boy. You'll pay for this." The Scorpion told Kestrad, a sneer on his face. Kestrad watched as the Scorpion disappeared into the crowd. Then he tried to vanish as well, but someone grabbed his arm. It was the well-dressed boy.
"You need to get that wound treated by a physician," the boy says, pulling him into the circle of soldiers that have now surrounded the boy.
"I've had worse," Kestrad replied, trying to pull away.
"You should still get it looked at. I'll pay," The boy said. Kestrad tried again to pull away again, but the boy has him firm. The boy was serious. Kestrad sighed and stopped resisting the boy's attempts to pull him along. The boy smiled.
"My name is Erival," the boy offered.
"Kestrad," Kestrad replied unthinking. He was surprised, because he had never told anyone that name since his mother died. He wondered what it is about the boy that made him so easy to talk to.
The two fall silent as the circle of soldiers around them wove through the crowd. After a few minutes, they left the market place and started to make their way through the city in the direction of the palace.
"Thanks for saving my life," Erival offered, trying to start a conversation. Kestrad nodded, but he was occupied with other thoughts. He regretted his decision to help Erival. All of his work to keep his head down was wasted. He had caught the attention of the most dangerous and unpredictable street fighter in the city. He needed to keep as low a profile as was humanly possible for a while. He might even need to leave the city.
"We are here," Erival said, interrupting Kestrads thoughts. He looked around. Without his notice, they had left the city and climbed the hill to the palace. They now stood in front of two massive wood gates set into the palace wall, a grey stone structure encompassing the palace. The guards at the gates seemed to know Erival, and were ushering them through. Kestrad almost smiled at the idea of a bastard and a street boy like him in the royal palace. But there he was.
The palace was a grey and white stone structure that sat above the city. It was a work of art, with towering spires and ornate carvings of lions and horses set into the walls. It sat upon a large hill overlooking the city below, a resolute shape on the skyline of the city.
Erival leaded Kestrad through the gates and into courtyard, over the cobblestone ground and around the side of the stone building and into a small yet lovingly tended garden filled with wildflowers. Erival opened a small wooden door greyed with age and towed Kestrad into the palace, pulling him through hall after hall. Clearly, Erival knew the palace very well. Everywhere they went, the passing people paused what they were doing and sank into a small bow or curtsy. Finally, Erival reached a plain looking door like many of the other doors they passed. There is a sign on the door with something written on it, but Kestrad couldn't read. Erival knocked.
"Yes?" a voice replied from behind the door.
"It is me, Erival," Erival replied.
"Prince Erival! Come in!" the voice on the other side exclaimed. Prince? Kestrad thought. I should've known when he offered to pay then lead me to the palace. The door opened, and Prince Erival pulled Kestrad in behind him, closing the door.
"Have you gotten into a fight again?" the source of the voice, a plump, aging man asked.
"Yes. I had a knife pulled on me," Erival replied.
The aging man eyes Erival, a look of reprimand on his face. "I told you this would happen if you kept picking fights with street urchins. What did he do to provoke you?"
"He was beating up a woman because she refused to give him free food from her restaurant."
"Your sense of justice will get you into trouble one day, Erival."
"But he was beating up a defenseless woman."
"I can see I won't be able to get my point into that thick head of yours today, Erival. Are you injured anywhere?"
"That's why I came here, Lord Manis. I'm bleeding," Erival said with a small laugh. Lord Manis sighed. He beckoned Erival over and bandaged his knife wound.
"Who's your friend?" Lord Manis asked as he worked, eying Kestrad.
"He saved my life, but got cut by the knife in the process. He says his name is Kestrad."
"Kestrad, eh? Not a usual name," Lord Manis commented, "Well, I can't treat your wounds if you are that grimy. You both need a bath," Lord Manis points Kestrad through a doorway. "If you go through there you'll find a large basin in the floor. There should be two facets at the end… actually, never mind. Erival, you help him. Kestrad, I'll get some clothes, but they might not fit you. You are rather tall. There you go, Erival. All fixed."
"Thanks, Lord Manis," Erival said as he lead Kestrad into an adjacent room. It was small, with shelves full of pots and jars of herbs. In the floor was a wooden basin, about an arm and a half deep, with two water pumps at one end. Erival crouched at the edge of the basin and beckoned Kestrad over.
"The pump on the right is hot water, the one on the left is cold. By hot, I mean boiling, so vary the source of the water. Lord Manis will be in the other room, so yell if you need anything," Erival explained. Kestrad nodded, but Erival had already stood up and left the room.
Curiously, Kestrad pumped water out of the hot water pump and stuck his hand under the stream. Like Erival had said, the water was very hot. Kestrad had never seen anything like it. He stared in wonder at the pumps, then shook himself and filled the basin with water and took a bath.
Kestrad hadn't taken a bath in nine years, so by the time he was done, the water had turned a dark brown. He shook his matted black hair and tried to get some of the water out of it. It had been several years since he had been able to tell what color his hair or skin was. He was picking up the clean clothes that someone had slipped into the room when Kestrad wasn't looking when he heard voices in the next room drift over to him.
"Erival, have you been fighting again?" someone asked. The voice was warm, and sweet. It was a woman's voice.
"Sorry, Mother," That was Erival speaking. So the woman was Erival's mother, Queen Torina.
"I worry you fight too much. Captain Rollis told me you almost died."
"Yes, but a boy named Kestrad saved my life."
"Where is he now?"
"He's cleaning off, Queen Torina. He's so grimy I'm afraid his wound would get infected." It was Lord Manis
"Grimy?" the queen asked. Kestrad, who had been about to enter, paused.
"It appears as though he is a street urchin, my Queen," Lord Manis answered.
"A street urchin? Well, I still want to meet him. Landen probably wants to meet this boy too. He did, after all, save our son's life."
Kestrad pushed open the door and stepped into the room. The Queen stood with her back toward him, her vibrant red hair showing a little grey at the roots. So this is the famous Queen Torina. Kestrad said to himself. She didn't look like much from behind.
"Ah, here is Kestrad, your Majesty," Lord Manis said. The Queen turned.
"Thank you for saving…" the Queen stopped as shock, fear, anger, and then confusion crossed her face in the span of a few seconds. Then a single sentence crossed her lips. "But Vesputo's been dead for seventeen years…"