Welcome my Lord! The Royal Knights salute you. All of us will ensure that you a pleasant and safe stay in the kingdom of Kanavan. Yes, we may look like an intimidating group, but do not worry; we protect those who are innocent and harmless. Her Royal Highness gives you her regards and apologizes for her absence; she is extremely occupied with her duties as the Royal Queen. Yes? You wish to take a look before you enter the castle? Very well my Lord...I will deliver your belongings to the castle straightaway. A couple of my Knights will accompany you for your safety. No, no, it is no trouble. It was most pleasurable meeting you, Sire. If there is anything awry, please alert me at once. There had been a couple hassles with pickpockets lately...
A pair of green eyes watched the transaction with the sharpness of a hawk, his bare feet stepping gingerly against the rugged pavement. After the usual exchange of bows and smiles, the Guard Master walked away, his girly blue ponytail swishing with the movement. The village market was extremely busy, with people rustling about and coins jangling against their pockets. It was a veritable gold mine here, but one wrong move could get you sent to the pillory, or worse, mutilation. So far, he had been lucky. Others had not.
Kanavan; the Kingdom of Swordsmanship. Yes, there were many nobles that visited this country to see the skill of the warriors. If a warrior was lucky, he or she might be chosen to become an officer, maybe win a war, be hailed as a hero and crowned with glory and a life of ease. Many prospective youths went to train under the Royal Guard and perhaps be accepted into their ranks. But most of them were sons and daughters of the nobles, people who generally knew when they would have their next meal. Others, such as merchants and shopkeepers, would have their children go if they had the money, but if not, no matter; they had their trade to pass on. Already most kids his age were learning the art of the blacksmith or the baker.
And then, there was him. The very scum of the population of this wonderful kingdom.
Of course the Royal Guard didn't want an eyesore like them seen by the eyes of the nobles. Elves, after all, were not worthy to live as equals. The life of a human was worth more than those of a hundred elves. Oh sure, some elves were glorious figures of legends that scoured the forests, communicating with spirits and whatnot, but that was just that: a legend. It certainly wasn't something he cared for, neither was it going to help him get food. He drifted closer.
There it was! In the back bottom pocket of the fat purple lord: a weighty-looking purse, probably loaded with coins. But no way in the seven hells was he going to go for that. He took in the surroundings: Some people were bowing to the aristocrat, but most of them were absorbed in their own problems, getting their supplies and haggling over prices. Two soldiers were tailing him, warding off anything that looked suspicious.
He whistled five notes: a subtle gesture that was barely heard over the noise of the crowds. But she'd heard it. She stepped out, having taken as much pains as him to look remotely uninteresting: she'd used some cheap dye to darken her hair, and a strip of cloth was tied around her head like a makeshift headband, covering her ears. At first her gaze looked cold and sullen, but a modicum of warmth crawled onto her face as she saw him, her eyes just as green as his. Looking as if she had all the time in the world, she made her way over to him, looking like any other human girl. Strolling casually, they made their way to a sad-looking corner, the least attractive place they could spot.
"It's a big one this time."
She raised an eyebrow, clearly interested. "How big?"
"Big enough to keep us going for a week." He grinned at the growing excitement in her eyes. "But be careful. We nearly got caught last time. Two soldiers tailing him, and pockets at the back."
Her ears twitched. "He's coming! Quick, what's ahead of this point right now?"
"A...a fruit stand. Oh, and Old Partie." Partie, or Partusay, was the local vendor that sold flashy but cheap trinkets which he claimed had magical water properties. Most of the villagers disliked him; a sucker to the nobles, he treated everyone with disdain and had a walking-cane that he enjoyed lashing out on little kids that went to close to his goods, yelling, "Littl' kids needs ta gets off ta streets 'n' lurn ta works 'fore dawdlin' 'round here! Either ya forks out or ya gets out!" He even had a gold tooth that shone when he grinned, which just emphasized his other teeth which looked worse.
"Great." She turned to him, her eyes getting that mischievous glint he only saw when she was excited. "Back me up, ok?"
"Always." The duo disappeared.
Barely 10 minutes later, Old Partie saw a girl walking very deliberately around his shop, whistling a mocking tune as she pretended to examine the nearby fruit stand, examining the apples. Not wanting to make a bad impression of the approaching noble, he waved his stick threateningly, hissing, "Harlit! Noble's ain't gonna see yeh, so stop whorin' round di' place, girl!" Recognizing her not as an elf but as a street-kid, he jabbed for her in what he believed a subtle prod.
Recognizing the insult of how street-girls like her were forced into prostitution, she fought her rage down, casually saying, "Aw, just buying an apple for my brother. He likes apples."
"I said git!" He stabbed for her leg, which made perfect contact as she fell to the ground, crying in pain. She landed onto the ground with a thud, drawing the attention of passers-by.
"Partie! What're you thinking, whipping this poor lass? Are you all right dear?" A kindly lady holding a bag stuffed with groceries helped her up, patting her kindly as she sniffled out a "Thank you, ma'am."
"What's the meaning of this hubbub?" The fat noble walked in, fixing stern eyes on the girl. "Little girl, where are your parents?"
"Hey! Stop! That's my girlfriend! Are you oka– Aaaah!" Tripping over a small rock, he crashed into the nearby fruit stand, causing fruit to spill everywhere, falling onto a muddled heap.
"Watch where you're going, boy!" The livid fruit-owner yelled from his seat, his face turning purple and red.
"Sorry, sorry!" He responded good-naturedly as the two soldiers stepped forward to help pick up the battered produce. By now, a large crowd had gathered to watch; everyone enjoyed a good ruckus now and then. "That was my girlfriend, she's been looking for something, I mean...wait where is she?" She had melted away amongst the racket. He ran off, yelling, "I have to find her! Sorry! It's our first date!" He added, simulating a round of indulgent laughter from the throng and a shake of the head from the lord. "Kids these days..."
He ran off, turning to the alleyway. "Lire?" He scanned the area frantically. "Where are you?"
"Here~" She materialized from the shadows, jumping into his arms. "We made it, Ryan! We really did!"
"We did." He held her tightly, as if to shield her from all the world's dangers. "So, how much did he have?"
"You were right; it is enough to keep us going for a whole week." Breaking the embrace, she got out a dirty handkerchief that was tied in a tight bundle, opening just a gap to reveal a mass of shining coins. "I already disposed of the bag in the trash; no use keeping it, unless you want to get caught. Oh, and for a bonus~ ta-dah!" Digging into her shirt, she revealed a fairly sized apple she had managed to sneak from the kindly lady that had helped her, somewhat battered, but still edible.
Ryan laughed, ruffling her head. "That's my little stealth master. Now let's go get some food before someone sees us."
"Oh, but he already did." A voice whispered almost inaudibly from the darkness as they ran. "And he's seen quite a lot." Laughing, the figure followed them quietly.
Her eyes widened triple-fold as they set a feast on their rickety table. He laughed at her awe. "What is this?"
"Now we can finally get some proper medicine for you, Noona!"
"R-Ryan..." She seemed at a loss for words. "This is...incredible...but where did you find all this?" Her eyes slightly darkened with reproach. "Did you steal this?" She half-rose from her bed.
"N-no...I mean..." Wilting slightly, he developed a sudden interest to the ground.
"Ryan, what did I say about thievery?"
"How else are we to survive, then?" He responded defensively, feeling frustrated. "No one cares a fig for us, how can you still pretend to be high and noble like that? You're getting sicker all the time, the humans hate us elves more than ever, and you think I want t-to lose y-you..."
The other elf also interceded, "We risk our lives to put food on the table, and Oppa's job, if you can call slaving all day for a mere handful of pennies a job, isn't enough to feed the four of us!" Her voice softening, she added, "You know we're not doing this to spite anyone, Lian-Unni. We just don't want you all to starve." She turned, kindling a fire to boil some water.
"I-I know that, Lire...but how can I...I'm just so sorry, to burden you like this..." Tears formed in the elder elf's eyes as another fit of coughing shook her, knocking her back onto bed. Anger evaporating, the younger elves surrounded her, urging her to eat a bite. Just then, another elf entered.
"The master wouldn't let me leave...whoa, what the...?" His eyes widening at the food on the table, he turned towards the others. "Did I just die and came to heaven?"
"Oppa!" Lire flew into his arms, giggling. "The Creator gave us a divine blessing today!"
"Is that so?" He spun the girl around, her delightful peals of laughter warming every heart in the household, then gave Ryan's hair a good tousle.
"It's true, Hyung." Ryan nodded earnestly as he began to tell their story.
The four lived in one of the most remote areas of the alleyways. No surrounding elves, let alone humans to help them, Ladmir, Lire's brother, managed to get a job as a servant in a noble's house, basically waiting on the guests and cleaning the rooms. Ryan's elder sister, Lian, used to be a healer with the herbal remedies that she could make, but a sudden illness had taken her strength, leaving her ailing on the bed. That left two of them, Ryan and Lire, to look for work. But all the elves were clamouring for even the lowliest jobs, and Ladmir was certainly not allowing his precious younger sister to work as a sex trader, an all-too-common "job" for most elves her age. It was easier for a fly to become a Royal Guard Knight than an elf, so that was also out of the question. Left with no other choice, the pair had turned to pickpocketing, only stealing from those who could afford more and just the bare essentials to live another day. Today, however, was a jackpot day.
But even if they got no haul, and went to bed with empty stomachs, they were happy. They were together. They loved and were loved by each other, even in their state of wretched poverty.
Once Ladmir listened to the story, he frowned the slightest bit, but quickly dismissed it. "Then that's that."
"But Ladmir, they..."
"It's all right, Lian." He shook his head. "The deed's done, and even if they returned it, they'd be condemned." Turning to the two, he stared with warning eyes. "Don't steal from the nobles, it makes them look weak. And they hate being made a fool out of. If all's well, he'd let this pass and move on. I don't want you doing this again, understood?"
"It's a big city, Hyung. He'll never be able to find two elves among millions."
"All the same, no buts, Okay?"
"Okay." They mumbled.
"Good." The atmosphere lightened. "So what was Old Partie's face like?" He reached for a hunk of cheese and began chomping away.
"Priceless! Even if we didn't get anything, it'd still have been worth it." Lire laughed at the memory, tearing a hunk of bread with her teeth.
"Here, Noona, I got this for you. Please try some." Ryan coaxed a cup of hot tea into her hands, helping her sit back up. For now, the four would have traded nothing for their dank home as they ate and laughed.
But night arose too soon, and they prepared for bed. Lian quickly fell asleep, a full stomach helping her snooze, and Ladmir had gone off to see if there were any other work he could do despite Lire's pleading. Ryan and Lire fell onto the remaining mattress, snuggling up to each other to preserve body heat; lack of prissy social etiquette did not enable them to feel the awkwardness and discomfort others would have felt. A thin cover served as a blanket as they waited for sleep to take them.
"Say...Ryan?" Lire mumbled.
"This home, everything...will it all stay the same?"
Taken aback, he did not immediately give a reply. Their life was not one of luxury, but they could do worse. He had seen elves engage in dangerous work that often left them dead or dismembered, brutally punished for minor offences, selling themselves as slaves. He'd seen them, sprawled on the corners, their blank eyes indicating that they were dead; he'd steer her towards the opposite direction if he saw so much as a glimpse of them. The thought of Lire going to any of those paths made him angry, but helpless. They could not pickpocket forever. And then, what would they do? Maybe the Queen would have changed the laws by then, or another option would come. Maybe they can live in the wild, like their ancestors...and run freely, living in trees and hunting down animals. Now that was a thought.
"Yes, Lire." He drew her closer. "Nothing's going to change."
"Good. Because I like being with Ladmir-Oppa, Lian-Unni, you...zzzzzzzz." Her breathing became even as her eyes flickered once, then closed.
He smiled. Underneath her tough and cold armour, she was so frail and innocent. "Me, too." He whispered.
Lire awoke suddenly, her eyes wide in the faint moonlight. Something was very wrong. Gently prying herself from Ryan, she hopped to her feet. Alarm bells were ringing in her head, but she couldn't make out the source of her alarm. The walls of her home suddenly seemed very narrow, she burst out, panting. Willing her frantic heart to stabilize, she looked around; everything was exactly as it should be, with the grimy alleyways and rodents scuttling about.
"So...stumbling into the open, are we?"
With a slight gasp, she turned, coming face to face with a boy with devious eyes that were red as blood. "What do you want?" She growled, taking a defensive pose.
"Don't be like that, you looked much better when you're asleep." He purred, then stood straight up. "I've been hired by Lord Gardosen to track down the thief who stole his purse. That's you...isn't it, elf?"
Ignoring the sinking feeling she felt as her heart dropped to her stomach, Lire squared her shoulders. "What if I am?"
"Then I have to take you to him so you'll be appropriately punished. Don't worry, if you're lucky, you might become his concubine–"
"Shut up!" She snapped. "That garden lord has enough money to drown in while my family's starving! So what if I took some coins?" No one cared for her family, not at all...they just kept them around for cheap labour and sex...
"But they're not yours, elf. Sorry, but that's life, you deal with it. Now come with me peacefully, or it'll get rough." He took a step forward.
Lire thanked her brother dearly for teaching her to fight to some degree. Their ancestors wielded bows, but the human populace would not allow elves to have weapons. But she could kick, years of street life helping her become agile and fast as well as blending into the shadows. It didn't matter that she had no shoes on; accustomed to walking barefoot, her feet had hardened considerably, allowing her to walk without feeling a dent. She darted left as if to break for it.
"Now, let's not get too rough~" Chuckling, he dove after her.
Elf and human fought, struggling to beat the other; the boy would lose his pride if he lost, but Lire would lose so much more. He seemed very adept at moving quietly, snaking around her attacks like a snake and getting in a few jabs of his own. He was just as stealthy as her, but one look could tell that he was properly fed, and trained by a professional. Lire was a street-elf, moulded by the harsh hands of reality. However, Lire knew the corners and crooks of these streets like the back of her hand, having lived here all her life. This stranger had not. The alleyways was her home, the soggy walls her protection. So after a few hits, she melted into the shadows, catching him in a mighty tackle from behind, raking her hands across his pale face. As he yelled and stumbled, her feet flew, giving him a mighty kick right in his batteries.
"You little bitch!" He growled, clutching his casualties.
"Sorry, but that's life, you deal with it." She quoted her opponent, her breathing hard. "Now leave, or I'll kill you."
"This isn't over, knife-ears." He limped off, glaring with hateful eyes. "This is not over."
Lire stayed outside until the visitor was long gone, and even when she went back to bed, it took hours to find repose as she drifted off into an uneasy sleep, only somewhat calmed by the sounds of Ryan's breathing. Despite the warmth, she shivered.
I'd always wondered what would happen if I put Lire and Ryan in this situation: instead of glorious free elves running in the forest with spirits, they're shackled in poverty in a prosperous kingdom, hated by humans and whatnot. Not the most original idea, but still wanted to take a shot. Eh, I guess you can call this a drabble of sorts, though I have half a mind to continue it if anyone cares. And don't be mad at me, the next chapter for HF is 85% complete and will be updated in less than a week.
*Must add this: In Korea, a younger sister calls her older brother: Oppa
a younger sister calls her older sister: Unni
a younger brother calls his older brother: Hyung
a younger brother calls his older sister: Noona