The sound of coins caught Firyal’s attention. She sat on the other side; the weight of the purse as it fell on the counter promised a lot of money. She looked at the man: he was on the heavy side. But she couldn’t see his eyes: she’d learned over the past couple of years that a man’s weight wasn’t enough to mark him an easy target.
You had to pay attention to his clothes, to his visible and invisible weapons – you’d be surprised the number of gentlemen who had no weapons beyond a decorative useless sword. But mostly you had to pay attention to his eyes, or rather the look in it. She’d learned to read people’s eyes and whether she should risk stealing the purse. Sometimes a purse full of gold coins wasn’t worth the trouble whereas a purse with a dozen silver coins could be easy. You had to know when to take a chance and when not to be greedy.
She observed the man; he sat negligently on the chair. To anyone, he might have looked completely unconcerned with his surroundings. It was deceptive though; he’d taken the one seat that allowed him to see whoever entered the inn and to have nobody at his back. He knew where troubles could come from. As he leaned in his chair, she noticed that though he was heavy he wasn’t soft. Nope; the clothes were deceptively large, making him seem limp but his thighs were too thick for someone who pretended to send most of his days sitting on his overly large buttocks. The portliness was fake. Who was this man?
When the maid came to his table, she smiled. She’d seen the purse: she wasn’t the only one. Everybody in the tavern would have. And Firyal wasn’t so stupid as to think she was the only one calculating her odds at getting her hands on the coins. But she’d already decided she wouldn’t even try to take that man down: she would take a chance if some of the men here thought he would be an easy target. She cast a glance around her. She could see the calculating looks… Then she noticed. She should go. She turned about: the man had pulled out one coin out of the purse and was tossing it in the air. The maid followed it eagerly.
“Tell me miss, I’m looking for a rat.” The man said.
The woman’s smile faded. And Firyal trembled. She had to get out of here. Now. It wasn’t worth the risk. No money was worth that kind of chance. She never had the opportunity to move before it started though… Three men jumped onto the fake fat merchant. But he was up, one of his weapons out before she could blink. She’d seen the men who had come with: they’d sat in the room in such formation that when they came to action, nobody would get out. For now they didn’t move. But it wouldn’t last. She flattened herself farther into the alcove where she’d sat. She let herself fall on the floor.
On all fours, she shuffled about, trying to avoid people’s legs in the melee that had ensued after the first assault on the ‘merchant’. Most of the girls had retreated to the kitchen, hiding behind the door, hoping that they wouldn’t be the prize of the fight winners. It’d been known to happen before. Firyal doubted it though: these were soldiers. And not any… they were the King’s Guard. They wouldn’t touch a hair on the head of the women. Well… unless one of them were a rat. Which meant Firyal had to disappear.
“There.” Someone bellowed over her. She retreated underneath a table towards the wall. She followed it; the kitchen door was almost there. Almost, almost… And then she couldn’t move. Someone caught her. Her heartbeat went into a frantic rhythm, as fear overwhelmed her. No, no, no!
They pulled her up, not violently but forcibly regardless. She fought tooth and nail but there was nothing she could do. She was too small.
“Got you.” She found herself looking into the soldier’s eyes. He was a giant. She looked around. Only the King’s men still stood. His hold was strong but not ungentle. She tried to escape his hold but she couldn’t. “I’d rather not put you in a rat cage. Won’t you show yourself?”
She couldn’t change back here. People would know. People couldn’t know. If they knew she’d die. Rats captured by the authority were a liability. She shook her snout. He nodded. One of his men brought a cage; she felt the electricity as they placed her in. She couldn’t change back in one of these. She wouldn’t escape.
The leader let his purse fall on the counter. Turning to the innkeeper he told him to keep the coins to repair his tavern. And he ordered three of his men to stay in order to help set things in order. The innkeeper fell on his knees, grateful. Those who attacked the King’s men, well… she must hope she wouldn’t be anywhere near their cells. She’d been right though: the coins weren’t worth the risk. She should have gone out the moment he came in. Or the moment she realized there were too many people at the inn for that time of day. How had she missed that?
Well here she was. And there was no returning to Nawfal now: he would know. He always knew. She was dead: shifting in the inn wouldn’t have changed nothing. Nawfal knew; he’d sent her there. Her heart went into panic mode again; she had to slow down, it was too fast. She’d have a heart failure.
“Sir. There’s something wrong with her.”
“We can’t let her shift shapes here. She could escape.”
“Sir, she won’t. She’s terrified I think.”
“Do you think or do you know?” The man shrugged. “Well then, we’re almost there.”
While she struggled to calm her heart, they arrived at the town’s city hall. They were ushered into an empty dark room; curtains were drawn, there was but a small fire by way of lighting. She could escape from a room like that. It was dark enough that she could hide.
“Don’t even think about it.” Someone else said in the room. She knew that voice. When they opened the cage, she burst out, trying to get away. But then he spoke again. “Freeze.”
She did. His magic was too strong for her. It always was.
“You can shift now.” It may sound like an authorization but it was an order. And so Firyal did. The rumours had been a trap; of course they were. How could Nawfal not know that? Or didn’t he?
“Nawfal sold me, didn’t he?” She whispered, looking into her father’s eyes.
“I offered him a price he couldn’t refuse Firyal. I wanted you back.”
“You closed your house to me Father. Because I was a shifter: a rat. The plague of this realm. You coined the phrase, or don’t you remember? And why are the King’s Men involved in our family matter dear Father? I always thought you hated anyone butting in.”
He wasn’t going to tell her; she knew that. He always treated her like a little girl. She hadn’t shown much promise with magic and his attention had shifted to her brother who was more talented. Until she actually shifted. Then he kicked her out.
“The King needs you. Needs us. So I want you back.” She almost laughed. He didn’t want her back. Not really. “We’ll get to Soukhal later today, after you… after you’ve cleaned up.”
“Am I not beautiful enough for you Father? You’ve made sure I didn’t have scrap to get by. What coins I could steal, I used for food. Not for beauty products.”
He raised his hands.
“Lord Nizar.” The lead soldier spoke in a soft tone. It froze her father’s movement. He’d almost hit her. Not the first time. And they’d barely spent ten minutes together. Apparently she hadn’t lost her ability to make him lose his temper.
“Get her out of my sight. Get her cleaned up and ready to leave in an hour.”
The man bowed slightly and taking her arm, guided her out. He felt just as gigantic now, as he had when she was in her rat form. And just as strong. But like before his hold was gentle. But he’d stopped her father with two words. Who was he? No one ever stopped her father from doing exactly what he liked. Not even the King who trusted his advisor implicitly.
In response to Linda G Hill’s Saturday stream of consciousness prompt Coin