Not a hero.
I'm not a hero. Heroes are bold and brave, always doing what's right and fighting against the evil in everyday life, or so those children's fables go. Me, I never put much stock in fairytales. They stretch believability to the limit, talking about happy endings and how the girl and the guy ride off into the sunset to have the perfect life together. That's cute, but fake.
Real life is hard. Take me for example: I'm Selvanna Al'crane, accomplished thief, efficient con-artist, and general rogue. My mother was a prostitute working the docks in Rydhan, my father...well, I never figured out who he was. Mother did her best, but life always seemed stacked against her. We lived in a small apartment over a bait shop. She'd go out at night, plying her trade, and I'd sneak out to the gambling halls and watch the poor saps pour their money away. Mother would have killed me if she'd known where I spent my time.
That is, if a cutpurse hadn't done her in first.
I guess she didn't do too bad a job at raising me. Being alone at the not-so tender age of seventeen, I stayed as far away from her profession as possible, turning to petty thievery and crude swindles to stay alive. I turned out to be fairly adept at this sort of thing and made it my career of sorts. As soon as I'd got enough money, I left Rydhan to move out to the hotter climate of the desert, in the bustling trade city Surya'l.
So like I said, I'm no hero. Why does this stuff always happen to me? Why can't one of those storybook knights come riding out of the hills and deal with this sort of thing? I guess I should start at the beginning, or as near as I can.
It was this morning, a bright, hot day in the middle of Gravmagast, a big festival out here where merchants from all over come to show off their wares. This made it the perfect time for me to work them for whatever excess coins they had.
I like Surya'l. The Hav'draake who runs the city is corrupt and easily bought, the city guards could care less if you swiped everything out from under their noses so long as you don't disturb their nap, and you get to meet such a wide range of lowlifes. Like this guy I met in a bar the night before.
His name was Harzlan, and he was a goblin from the south. Apparently, as he told to me over many drinks, he was out here to meet a friend; but said friend had decided not to show, on account of a sudden and completely expected case of death. But Harzlan's problem was that his buddy forgot to tell him where a large amount of stolen property they'd taken from a mansion in Thalber was. See, that's the problem when you work with a partner; they always steal your stolen goods for themselves. He agreed with me as I removed his money pouch.
I imagine the dear goblin has learned another lesson. Never carry a full purse whilst getting drunk.
But I'm deviating from my story.
Like I said, it was morning in Surya'l, and I was feeling bright and chipper. I'd just fenced some of the pottery I'd stolen from a merchant caravan and now, with two hundred gold Char' for a job well-done, I was feeling like a celebration. So I found me a merchant selling some fine Ve'hanna wine and bought a bottle of it. That was when I saw the wagon go by.
It was a slave wagon, like a thousand others I'd seen in the years I'd lived in the desert. Slavery may be illegal in most countries, but out here, well who gives a damn? The slave merchants collect the nomadic desert people, force them into slavery, and that's that. I find it deplorable, but it's amazing what you'll put up with over time. I guess you just start to ignore it.
Either way, I have no idea why I turned my head and stared at this particular wagon. It was no different from any other I'd ever seen. It was big, wooden, and with several barred windows. Nothing special.
But I guess the face I saw peeking through the window was special. It was kid, a little girl. Suddenly, I felt this urge to follow the wagon and see where it stopped.
It went through most of the city, passing through Palace Street, going down over the Blue Hill, and coming to a rest out in the fringes of Surya'l, with the other slavers and their wagons. They made a circle, pigs protecting pigs, but this wagon steered clear of them, taking its place on a little sandy hill with a bitter nut tree to provide shade.
Only one man got out, and I assumed it was a small slave operation.
The man was dressed in the deep blue robes of a Tekifi tribesman, but from the way he wore his beard and from the opulent gems, rings, and medallions he wore I guessed he wasn't a member of the stoic tribe anymore. He looked mean and ugly, with a permanent scowl on his face and a saber thrust into his belt. Yeah, he was definitely an outcast; the Tekifi didn't believe in violence.
I walked up to the man. "Hey," I said, smiling what I hoped was a friendly smile and not one of disgust. "How much for the slaves?" I didn't know why I asked. Kids like this were rounded up and sold to the highest bidder on a daily basis. Why were these ones any different?
"Ah," the man rushed up to me, his beard bobbing with his huge smile. "Excellent, most excellent, you are looking for a young, strong slave to work around your house, yes? Maybe do some cooking, or tend to your garden? I have just the thing, just the thing." He waved towards his wagon. "You name what you need, yes, and I can provide the perfect slave for you."
My smile was feeling more and more forced. "I want all of them; how much?"
The man blinked, his smile evaporating at once. "What do you mean, all of them?"
"I mean, I'll buy each one of your slaves, how much are they?" I put my hands on my hips and peered over the man's head. I could see that same pair of eyes staring at me from the window set into the wagon's door.
"I am sure I can give you one slave who will..."
"No," I cut him off. "All of them."
"That is much money, I do not think..." the man was getting flustered.
"I don't care," I said tersely. "I'll pay it."
"All right," his voice changed slightly, grew harder. "Five hundred Charmalas."
"Done," I said without blinking an eye. "I can get the money for you by tonight. Will you hold the slaves for me until then?"
The man seemed surprised by my immediate acceptance of his price and he nodded. "Yes, I will hold them for you until tonight, but no longer than that. I have to make a living you know."
I nodded and left, heading back to the city. I wasn't sure why I'd just agreed to pay the man five hundred Char', but I was damn sure I'd come up with the money, no matter what it took.
"No, absolutely not."
"C'mon Ben, I'll pay you back, I just need three hundred Char'." I tried pleading with him, but I could see he was determined not to budge.
"I said no Selvanna, and I mean it." Ben Garthan said as he downed his first, and knowing him, only, ale of the day. "I don't know what you need all that money for, but there's no way I'm giving you."
"Loaning it to me," I corrected. "And I promise to pay you back, with interest."
"No, that's my final word on this matter." Ben got to his feet and headed for the door of the Brass Goat, a tavern on Cramp Street.
"Wait, please!" I ran up to him, grabbing his arm and keeping him from leaving. Ben was my last hope. I'd tried my other contacts, and they all flat-out refused to see me if I wasn't selling them something. Ben was one of my best fences, and the closest thing I had to a friend. He'd taken on a lot of things for me that other people wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole, and I suppose I owned him and not the other way around, but it was still my last shot.
"Listen, Selvanna," he gently removed my arm. "If you're having debt trouble, why don't you tell me who it is and I can send some of my boys over to convince them otherwise, eh? It'll be a lot cheaper, and a lot more effective, then paying them for any reason."
"No, you don't understand," I followed him outside. The sun was dipping low now, almost touching the red dunes to the west. "I need the money to buy a slave."
Ben frowned. "You, Selvanna, buy a slave? That's sounds very unlikely. And besides," he continued to walk at a brisk pace, forcing me to run to keep up, "whoever heard of a slave costing three hundred Char'?"
"It's actually more than one slave," I told him. He stopped and turned to face me.
"What do you mean?" He asked flatly, a hint of curiosity behind his pale gray eyes.
"I don't know, there're these kids and I just...well, I don't know." I looked up at him and shrugged. "I just gotta do this, Ben, can you understand that? If you won't give me the money I'll try to find another way."
Ben sighed. "You know, I don't get you. A thief who suddenly decides to play at being a heroine? It doesn't fit, Selvanna."
"I know, and I can't explain it, but this is something I need to do." I turned to walk away, hoping he'd change his mind, hoping he'd give me the money. I started walking down the street and still he stood there, quietly watching me. I sighed, figuring I'd have to find something else to do. I just couldn't let those kids get sold on the auction block, something deep inside me refused to let me stand aside and let this happen.
"Wait, Selvanna," Ben caught up with me. "I'll give you the money, if, and only if, you agree to provide me with first pick of anything you decide to fence and give me fifty-percent off. What do you say?"
"Deal," I said at once. The sun had almost set. I'd pass up some of my normal income for this. I had to.
It was dark when I made it back to the slavers' circle, and the little wagon on top of the hill, under the bitter nut tree. A torch was lit at the wagon, so I assumed the slaver was still here and not drinking in one of the bars that filled Surya'l. I hoped he hadn't sold any of the kids. He had agreed to hold them for me, but I trusted a slave trader about as much as I trusted a Cyclops.
"I have the money," I called out, feeling very stupid saying something like that and stepped closer to the wagon. Turns out, I had good reason to feel stupid.
The slaver and two other men walked around the corner of the wagon. He had a huge smile. The other two men had huge swords tucked into their belts. I felt threatened immediately. The way they eyed my money pouch made me feel glad I'd chose to take along my short sword.
"I'm here for my slaves," I said boldly, hoping this was all just a normal routine and that these thugs were just bodyguards. That notion was dispelled with the slaver's first sentence.
"I'm afraid there's been a slight change of plans." He rubbed his hands together and stood behind the hulking swordsmen. "I fear I can't sell my wares to you at such a low price, due to inflated costs, I'm sure you understand. My fee has just gone up. I wouldn't worry though; just give these nice men what money you do have and maybe tomorrow I can tell you what my new rates will have to be, yes?"
"I don't think so," my hand clutched the hilt of my sword so hard my knuckles turned white.
"A great pity," the slaver shook his head. "Well, my friends here will not be happy at the prospect of no pay, will you, hmm?"
"No, we won't," one of the brutes said, drawing his sword and flashing me a toothless smile. "Why don't you hand over the money, cutie, and we'll just call this a night?"
"Come and get it," I snarled, sounding a lot braver than I felt.
The first swordsman charged me and I slipped to one knee in the sand, my own blade smoothly gliding to my hand and finding a new home in my opponent's liver. He shuddered in surprise and collapsed as his partner rushed me as well, his cutlass singing a death song right over my head.
I rolled to the side, parrying his next attack and kicking him in the groin. He grunted but held his own as the slaver tried to get behind me, his sword ready to plunge into my back.
I'm not an expert swordfighter, so what I did next was mostly luck and little skill.
I dove at the attacker in front of me, rolling into a crouch and blocking his blow aimed at my skull. Then, with our swords locked together, each of us applying as much pressure as possible to break the other, my left hand darted forward, snatching a knife from the man's belt.
His eyes widened as I slammed the point of the traditional Kafkal knife under his ribcage, tearing open a lung.
The slaver was behind me, about to thrust his saber into my defenseless back. I didn't let him. I snapped a kick to the dying attacker I was still locked in combat with, knocking him over my back and into the path of the slaver, who had to push his friend's dead weight aside before he could reach me. By this time, I was on my feet, and he wasn't prepared at all.
A quick slash, an inept attempt to block, and he was dead, his head nearly severed from his body. It was over.
I cleaned my sword and sheathed it, collecting the keys to the wagon from the body of the slaver. I unlocked the door of the wagon with my blood still burning in my ears.
At least seven kids were in there, all huddled in the back except for one, a girl of about thirteen. She stood as tall as she could in the tight confines of the wagon, staring at me with lifeless brown eyes that sent a chill down my spine. She, like each of the other children, was dressed mostly in rags.
"You're free," I said, standing aside so the kids could get out. It took them a while, but when they realized this wasn't a trick they stepped out carefully, their wide eyes taking in their surroundings at a glance.
"Go," I said, "you're free now."
The girl with the dead eyes shook her head slowly. "No," she said in the deeply accented voice of the desert nomads. "We are not free. We have no idea where we are or of where to go. Our families are all dead; we have no place to go."
I could tell from the look in her eyes that it was true. These monsters in human form had slain her entire family just to provide slaves they could sell for profit. I could also tell, from the torches flaring into life down at the slavers' circle, that our little combat hadn't been as quiet as I'd first believed. Any minute now, things would get very ugly on this little hill.
"Okay," I said, reaching a decision at once. "You can come with me. You'll be safe in the city."
The girl nodded and began telling the others of the news in their native language. They all looked relieved and eager to be gone from here. I couldn't blame them.
And so I walked back into the night, heading for the city with a group of children in tow. How had this happened? Maybe it was because I saw a little piece of myself in that girl's eyes. Maybe I realized that while life was hard, you didn't have to face it alone. Either way, my day had ended very differently than it had began. And I'm still not sure how it had all been started.
I'm no hero, so why did this happen to me?
The end. 4–8–2007.
This was just a short fantasy story I wrote some time ago. It's pretty weak, but I enjoyed it and hope that some of you will as well. I love comments, reviews, and criticism, so long as you're polite and semi-articulate, so tell me what you think!