Halt, formerly prince royale of the realm of Clonmel, glanced about furtively as he placed a cheese in his bag.
The action sent a wave of guilt through him, but he had no money to pay the farmer of this tiny farm, and he was hungry. Just looking at the cheese sent a pang of hunger shooting through his stomach life a knife.
A week ago he had been well-groomed and well-fed. Now, he was a shabby, grimy figure whose beard and hair – a curse of his family – had combined to turn him into some sort of wolf-man. He still wore the rags of the clothing he had gone fishing in, and his only weapon was a dagger on his belt.
There was a loud clatter from the kitchen door, and Halt shrank back into the shadows by the fireplace. He tensed, listening even harder, and bit back a curse as the farmer's young son traipsed into the kitchen holding an armful of logs.
Halt, eyeing the young man's slight gut, felt a surprising stab of hatred, followed by a wave of shame, then a flood of regret. The shame was for his irrational dislike of this stranger; the regret, that he hadn't been born a farmer's son.
Halt waited until the boy was facing the fire, carefully stacking the logs, then moved out of the pantry and edged towards the door, putting all of his efforts into remaining unheard. The young farmer didn't turn around - he was too busy making a truly dismal attempt at whistling - but when Hald made it to the doorway, a large hand dropped onto his shoulder.
"Hey!" the boy's father said, more startled than angry.
Halt threw his elbow back into the farmer's gut, then jerked loose of his hand and sprinted across the farmyard for the trees. He heard an angry yell behind him, but he didn't look back.
Fifteen minutes later he stopped running and began to walk more carefully to hide his tracks. Ten minutes after that, he glanced down to check his back and realised he had left the cheese in the farmhouse.