Title: I don't break the rules

Chapter 1: The second look is the damning one

I had no better reason to be watching the city gate other than boredom on a hot day. And there was nothing very remarkable about the two—a man and a youth, from their build—that came out leading horses, other than the hoods over their heads in spite of the heat. They caught my eye because they were holding hands. Hidden behind the folds of their long cloaks, I could see how tightly the youth's free hand was gripped by his companion. Protectively? Menacingly? Comfortingly? Or… possessively? The question held a strange fascination for me. Because of that, I gave my full attention to what happened next.

Unfortunately for them, they had also caught the eyes of the soldiers guarding the gate. "Show your faces!" At the order, the taller man pushed the other behind him, even as a gang of soldiers formed a threatening wall around them.

Reluctantly, the two obeyed. Excitement rippled through the soldiers. Their hair was black, standing out from the crowd of blond and brown hair around them like pebbles in a streambed.

The commanding officer rasped, "What is your business here? What do you have in those sacks?"

"We're travellers, passing through. These are our supplies. We bought them honestly." It was the tall one that answered. He spoke the Shared-tongue with a lilt, uncommon in this region. His deep voice had the kind of heavy dark calmness that precedes a storm.

"Search everything."

The soldiers surged forward to go through their belongings like ants on a refuse heap. The pair watched in silence, stone-faced, even when they could see, as I did, how some smaller bags disappeared into pockets. Among their belongings were a bow with arrows, and a short sword. But the men were not through with them yet.

"Remove your clothes. You might have hidden weapons on yourselves."

A look of dismay fell upon the smaller one's face, but the other put a reassuring hand on his shoulder as he answered, "We have no other weapons than these that you see, for our defence. And even if we did, we are leaving the city. We have caused no trouble during our stay, and we will cause none in leaving."

"Are you refusing to do as you're told?" the commander's tone was threatening.

"I am asking you to be reasonable."

His reply was an ugly laugh. "That's guilty talk, that is."

The smaller one had shrunk back against his companion, but it was clear there was no escape for either of them.

"Strip them!"

The soldiers made their move, and so did I.

Time froze.

Except for the two, as I had intended. I stepped into their vision. They gaped at me, and the taller one took a step towards his sword. With a small smile, I told them they had exactly twenty breaths to take their belongings and leave unmolested.

They exchanged glances in the familiarity of a long and intimate association. Then both began gathering sacks and lashing them onto their horses. I gave them much longer than twenty breaths in fact, but not so long that they lost their sense of urgency.

"Go, now!"

They did so with alacrity, and did not stop riding hard until they were a good way outside the city boundaries. I kept pace with them, even though my animal was much less burdened than theirs and could go much faster. When they halted, so did I. I pride myself on knowing people just from observing them, and I expected to get the answer to my question without much trouble.

I got a closer look at them when they dismounted. The smaller one gave me a shy smile. Slight of build, he had an air of innocence about him that suggested he was not very long out of childhood. Ebony waves caressed an elfin face dominated by light brown eyes flecked with gold.

"Thank you!" His voice had a purity of tone not yet tainted by drink and curses. Just then, a gust of wind blew a tangled mass over his face. He tossed back his head and tamed the wayward locks using his fingers as a comb. Judging from the ease and speed with which he did so, he either spent a lot of time in front of a mirror, or spent a lot of time in the company of women. I chuckled, amused that he cared about his appearance even at a moment like this. He flushed a little at that, but blurted out, "How did you do that?"

"More importantly, why did you do that?" The taller one asked with a challenging look. He was almost as tall as me, so he didn't have any trouble looking me in the eye. I had thought him an older man from his voice, but in actual appearance he seemed not that much older than the hair-tosser. He had the same colouring as his companion, though his eyes were a slightly darker shade and he wore his longer hair in a braid. They both had the tanned skin of outdoor life, so it was impossible to tell what their original complexion had been. Still, they did not look alike enough to be related, though both were pleasant enough to the eye.

He was admonished by his companion. "He just saved us! It won't kill you to be a little more polite."

"Be quiet." He did not shout, but something in his tone made the other begin to edge away from me.

"It is a fair question. And a prudent one for a traveller," I said. Of the two, I was finding this one much more intriguing, even though he was not quite as fetching as the other.

"Be so kind then as to give me an answer." He was unarmed and not heavily built, but from the feline grace of his stance, I had no doubt he could fight barehanded, and probably better than the average muscle-bound oaf.

"My answer is simple. It was a gift…" I lifted my hands slowly to show that I wasn't threatening them. "…from one who has suffered more than once or twice because of a mere colour." I lifted the hood of my riding cloak. "The colour of my hair."

They were silent for a while. Then the small one said, with all sincerity, "It's like moonlight."

His companion had a less poetic, but more accurate comment. "You're a Bender."

"That I am." I was mildly impressed, but I kept that out of my voice.

Awkwardly, he made me a small bow. "I thank you then, Sir Bender, for your gift." It seemed he knew the wisdom of not crossing a Bender, and this impressed me even more than his recognition. We are not so easy after all to know about.

"I'll part ways with you here. Good speed to you." I mounted and turned my steed away from the city.


It was the smaller one again. He made a move towards me, but two sinewy arms whipped under his arms and lifted his body, leaving him with legs kicking in mid-air. The two of them might not be related, but it was clear to me who was in charge of whom between them. And from the look on the captor's face, my guess was that there was more than a hint of jealousy motivating the act. That, in turn, more or less answered my question on their handholding. I laughed and rode off.

"At least tell us your name!" the prisoner shouted after me.

Over my shoulder, I sent my answer back on the breeze. "You can call me Brook."