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Colan grinned as he watched Torrin walk a short distance in front of him. The ferret had dropped much of his public image and he came across more laid-back than even some of the nobles. Some would consider the distance between Torrin and him to be improperly small, but Torrin didn’t care.
This part of the city was full of movement, beasts walking back and forth to their various destinations, some of the wealthier ones with slaves trailing behind them. Torrin's mode of dress fit the role of a minor noble better than a prince, his tunic had little ornamentation and he wore no gold or silver at all. Only the quality of his clothes and the saber on his back hinted at who he was.
Colan, as was proper, did not carry his saber. It wasn’t because he couldn’t, but more because they didn’t want to draw much attention.
Torrin had hinted that he had something planned, but Colan couldn’t figure out what it was. Unable to get any clues out of Torrin, he had let the matter drop and enjoyed the sights.
He had never been in this part of the city before, only traveling along the roads that took him to the oyster beds and back. Because the wealthy didn’t want grimy slaves running around under their feet, those roads were regulated to the poorer sections of the city. Now he was walking in the higher-end of the city. Mansions rose on either side of them as they made their way through a residential part of the city before emerging in the market.
Colan gawked at the sight before him. Sure, he had left the castle before, but they had never gone to anyplace like this! The large square had countless stalls covering the open space, the alleys between them crowded with a sea of beasts, the bright colors of their garments shifting like the sun shining through the crystal chandelier in one of the palace’s ballrooms.
Blinking, he rushed forward to catch up to Torrin, who had forged ahead of him, not noticing Colan’s astonishment. When he caught up to the ferret, he slowed down and looked over the wares. For the first time in his life, he saw beasts picking through the wares before selecting what they wanted. Torrin stopped at one stand and Colan stepped up next to him and picked up an apple from among the scores of similar fruits. Turning it over, he was amazed at its ruby color, its firmness, its unbroken skin. Of course, he had seen such apples in the palace, but he had assumed that they were grown specifically for the palace. To see that such quality was commonly available…it made him realize just how low slaves were thought of.
“Hoy, you! Git yer grimy paws off my wares, whelp!”
The otter stepped back in surprise at the sudden shouting, still clutching the apple.
“Hoy! Don’t yew even think ‘bout stealin’ it yew filthy waterdog or I’ll git yer master t’ give ya a hidin’ yew won’t fergit!”
Torrin glanced over at Colan and then turned back to the shopkeeper, his face cold. Rummaging around in his beltpouch he pulled out six copper coins and laid them on the counter of the stall. Grabbing a second apple, he leaned forward as the stallkeeper moved forward to take payment. Lowering his voice, he whispered dangerously. “A Prince’s slaves are never dirty.”
Colan grinned as Torrin swept past him, leaving behind a stunned and shaking stallkeeper. Still smirking, he took a bite of the apple, enjoying the fresh crunch, before turning away as well. Caching up to Torrin, he whispered in the ferret’s ear. “Is it always this busy?”
Torrin shook his head. “No, today is the weekly market day. Many of these vendors also have more permanent shops inside buildings, but a market is held once a week so beasts can get all their shopping done in one spot.”
The otter nodded, looking over the rolls of brightly-colored fabric that was being sold at one stall, and the needles and thread sold at another a short distance away. A fox was arguing with the rat selling the cloth, gesticulating wildly as a squirrel stood a short distance behind him, arms laden with the fox’s purchases.
Colan jerked as he head his name being called. Looking around, he noticed Torrin some distance ahead in the crowd, waving at him. Hurrying forward, he quickly caught up to the ferret, scolding himself for not paying attention.
They wandered around the market a little longer before Torrin led them out of the square and down a street lined with different shops. Each shop had its own unique sign above the door, even if they were the same kind. Most of the signs also had words along the bottom, informing the passerby what might be found inside. Colan saw many stores he had never thought of before, even one that sold merchandise specifically for slave owners. Colan shuddered as he thought about what must be inside.
Torrin eventually entered one of the last few shops of the street. Colan glanced up at the sign and wondered why Torrin was going into a jeweler’s. Shrugging, he entered and came to a dead stop just inside the door. It wasn’t the amount of precious metals inside the shop that startled him, no, he had gotten used to them at the palace. What really made him stop and stare was the intricate ornateness of the pieces on display. Only a few pieces displayed any kind of simplicity, most were made with such complex designs that one could look at a single inch and find new details after hours of looking.
Torrin walked over to where a nimble-fingered rat was working behind the counter, weaving thin silver and gold wire to make a veil, threading jeweled beads on here and there. Torrin tapped his paw on the countertop. “Did you finish my order?”
The rat didn’t look up. “How long ago was it placed?”
“A week ago today.”
Torrin watched as the rat’s fingers paused in their work, the rat looking up. Recognizing the Prince, he immediately sprang from his seat. “My apologies, Prince Torrin. I should have recognized your voice. Your order is complete, just as you asked.” Turning, he pulled a box from the shelf beside him before returning his attention to Torrin. “Here is your order, sir.”
Torrin took the box. “Do I owe you anything?”
The rat shook his head. “No, sir.”
Torrin nodded, “Thank you.” The ferret turned and exited the store, Colan close behind.
Once outside, Torrin turned to Colan. Opening the box, he pulled out a silver four-pointed star. The center of the star was a circle of gold, and it was hung on a gold chain from the topmost point. Torrin looked at the necklace. “I heard a story once of two friends who were like us, one was an otter, the other a “vermin”, a fox. The otter gave the fox a necklace as a visual reminder of a promise he made to the fox. These necklaces are replicas of the ones in the story, and the promise is the same. Your problems are mine, and anything you go through I’ll be right beside you every step of the way.”
Tears filled the otter’s eyes as the cold metal star settled against his chest. He reached up and gently rubbed his thumb across the tips of the points. He sniffed and quickly brought his paw up to wipe away the tears that had escaped his eyes.
“Thanks Torrin, I-” Colan’s voice failed him and he could only smile weakly as tears leaked from his eyes. Looking down, he lifted the medallion in his palm and stared at it. Taking a deep shuddering breath, he looked up. “Thanks.” He whispered.
Torrin smiled gently. The emotion in Colan’s eyes said more than words ever could. He lifted up the second identical medallion and hung it around his own neck. He turned, beckoning as he did so. “Come on Colan, let’s go back to the palace.”
Colan followed the ferret, still looking at the star in his palm. Torrin turned a corner but Colan, still absorbed in the medallion, continued straight. When he finally did look up, the medallion fell from his paw as it went rigid from shock. His head whipped around frantically as he tried to catch a glimpse of the ferret. Spotting a fox leaning against a wall ahead, he rushed over.
“Sir, have you seen my Master? He’s a ferret, about my height…” Colan paused as the fox pointed down the street beside him. “Thanks you, sir.” Colan blurted before darting down the street. He paused as he heard the rustle of cloth from one of the alleyways. His eyes caught a flash of black fur, and then he saw stars, and everything went black.
A large figure knelt beside the downed otter. A paw reached down and felt the otter’s pulse at his neck, completely dwarfing the smaller figure. The fox slid up next to the larger canine, placing a paw on his shoulder. The wolf looked down at the fox, then back at the otter. “He shouldn’t have run away from his master.” He rumbled. “Destroys all the trust they have in each other.” He glanced at the fox. “Now maybe we’ll have enough money to get off this island Saiir.” He picked Colan up. “Time to take him back to his master.”
Colan groaned as he began to wake up. His head was pounding, and he was cold and stiff. He reached up to feel his head, hissing as he touched a large welt. Forcing his eyes open, he looked around the room he was in. It was just like the one he had woken up in a month ago, stone ceilings, stone walls, stone floors, the whole bit. The room was decorated with Spartan-like efficiency, a small dresser being the only furnishing aside from the cot he was lying on. Colan looked over as the wooden door to his cell-like room opened. A fox stepped through the opening, followed by another fox and a black-furred wolf. Colan recognized the two foxes and quickly guessed where the wolf came in.
“You!” he exclaimed, pointing at the wolf. “Why did you attack me?”
The wolf shrugged. “You ran away from your master.”
Colan nearly choked, “I did not! And even if I did, why didn’t you bring me back to him?”
The wolf frowned in confusion. “I did…Fytch, are you this otter’s master?”
Fytch smiled, “Of course.”
Colan shot up from his bed, seething. “You are not my master. My master is Prince Torrin, and no one else.”
The wolf turned to the first fox. “Fytch, you told me you were his master.”
Fytch smiled widely, “You’re going to take his word over mine?”
In a blur of movement, the fox was slammed up against the wall by the wolf. “I don’t like to be lied to, Fytch.”
“I-I had a royal order.” Stammered Fytch, wiggling uselessly against the strength of the wolf. “From Prince Alspur.”
Colan felt uneasy, why would Alspur want him away from Torrin?
“Why?” Growled the wolf, pressing in on Fytch harder.
“I don’t know!” Fytch whined, “Something about ‘getting rid of opposition’, or something.”
“That’s not what I meant, you fool.” The wolf thundered, “I meant, why did you lie to me?”
Fytch smiled weakly. “Jax, we can work this out…”
Colan couldn’t stand there and listen any longer. He took off, darting around the wolf and the two foxes and down the hallway. He felt an object bumping against his chest and reached down to feel it. A thrill of joy ran through him when he realized that it was the medallion Torrin had given him. A newfound strength ran through his body; he would protect Torrin and keep his promise to him.
Colan ran through the halls, looking for a way out. Darting around a corner, he spotted a window. Running up to it he looked out. The ground was only a couple feet below the window, so he backed up, looking for something to break the window with. Grabbing a nearby lampstand, he swung it at the window, the glass shattering into a thousand pieces.
Jumping out, he grabbed the wall of stone that the window was set into and used it to swing sideways, away from the shards of glass that had scattered across the ground. Hitting the ground, he rolled, sprang up, and made for the gate a short distance away. The wall the gate was set in wasn’t very high, ten feet at the most, but it was a sufficient deterrent for most beasts. Colan heard a shout behind him, and two ratguards emerged from the gatehouse, blinking away their own sleep. They both fumbled for their weapons when the saw Colan running at them, a weasel close behind, sword drawn.
Colan slid to a stop in front of the first guard, leaping back as the guard’s sword hissed through the air in front of him. Bounding forward, he bounced off the guard’s head. Grabbing the edge of the wall, he hauled himself up and dropped over on the other side. Grunting on impact, he straightened and took off down the streets.
Judging by the sun, he had only been out for an hour or less, so there was a good chance Torrin would be looking for him in the city, probably around where he lost him. He had seen Fytch’s mansion when they had gone to the market, so he could probably find his way back from where he was now.
It didn’t take him too long before he turned the corner into the marketplace. Barreling through the crowd, he quickly made his way to the other side, despite the indignation of the vermin in the large square. He was about to run past a side street when he heard the ring of swords clashing. Skidding to a stop, be backtracked and looked down the narrow street. His eyes widened when he saw Torrin surrounded by three other beasts, hard-pressed to hold his own.
Colan rushed forward, reaching up his shirtsleeve to yank out the dagger he had hidden there as he drew near. Leaping forward, he landed on the back of one of the assailants, a ferret, and stabbed him in the neck. The other two were now aware of his presence and they circled away, placing Torrin between them.
The otter rushed over to Torrin. “Torrin, are you alright?”
Torrin looked as if he wanted to hug him. “You’re alright! Where were you?”
Colan glanced at the two assassins. “Simple version: Fytch told a wolf mercenary that I ran away from him. The wolf didn’t seem to like being lied to.”
Torrin yelped as he blocked an attack. “I’ll kill Fytch after we get out of this.”
Colan jumped forward to engage one of the assassins, dodging back as the rat’s whip-like tail snaked out. Leaping forward, he lashed out, his smaller blade falling short of the rat. The rat swung his sword and Colan ducked, knocking the blade up and over his head with the flat of his dagger. The sword’s momentum carried it wide, leaving the rat open. Colan stepped forward and slid the dagger between the rat’s ribs. The rat’s breath caught and his eyes widened as he felt the cold blade pierce his heart. He blinked a couple times before sinking slowly to the ground. Colan turned as Torrin stepped over the body of the third assassin, pulling his saber from the white-furred weasel’s stomach.
Torrin cocked his head. “Is that one of my daggers?”
Colan went red. “Y-Yes, it’s the one you gave me the first day I came to the palace.”
“I didn’t think you were carrying any weapons.”
Colan wiped the blade on the dead rat’s tunic and slipped it up his sleeve, hearing it click into place. “I-I’ve been carrying one ever since that rat entered your rooms.” He said, still blushing.
Torrin sheathed his saber. “They’re our rooms, Colan, and I’m glad I have such a good friend.”
Colan started walking, then froze. “Uhh, Torrin?”
“You might want to be careful around your brother. Fytch said he had a royal order from your brother naming him my master.”
Torrin stood in front of Alspur in the throne room, slack-jawed as he took in what his brother told him. Runtha stood behind the throne in full body armor, a greatsword point down between his footpaws. Alspur looked smug.
“Yes, unfortunately two assassins made it past our security and murdered our King and Queen. I was able to defeat my attackers with the help of my slave, but our parents were not so lucky.” He paused. “Both they and their slaves died.”
Colan’s breath left him as he sank to his knees. He couldn’t believe that his parents were dead. Killed! Life as a personal slave was supposed to be peaceful and easy, as long as you did what you were told. Now he could only trust Torrin. He felt something inside of him harden into a diamond core of determination. He would never let anything happen to Torrin. He couldn’t let the ferret die and leave him alone.
Alspur opened his mouth to say something else when a guard rushed into the room. “Prince Alspu-…I mean King Alspur! Two slaves have disappeared. They’re both squirrels and they go by the names of Gabe and Anna. We’re also told that they are brother and sister.”
Torrin cocked his head. Gabe and Anna? They did seem a little more affectionate than usual. Maybe they were saying that they were leaving.
Colan was still kneeling in shock, his eyes glued to the impassive stance of his brother he wanted to hit him, shake him, scream at him, anything to get a reaction out of him. Didn’t he feel anything? Wasn’t he feeling this same pain, this ache in his heart and this knot in his throat? Shouldn’t their reactions be the same? This shortness of breath, the world swimming before his burning eyes, stomach churning as he struggled not to gag? The only beasts that had been there to catch him as he took his first tentative steps, the ones that took the lash on their own backs instead of letting it fall on his? Didn’t he care that they were gone?
He heard Torrin speaking, but his mind failed to comprehend what was being said. He felt Torrin kneel next to him.
“Come on Colan, let’s get back.”
Colan nodded through his clouded mind and stood, stumbling along behind Torrin as they exited.
Colan didn’t notice the ferret stop until he collided with him, stumbling to the side as his nose smarted from striking the back of Torrin’s head. The ferret hadn’t bothered to turn around, one paw on the doorframe of the throne room. “Yeah?”
Alspur’s voice had a cold edge to it. “I am king now, right?”
Torrin continued walking, “I never planned on challenging you.”
Torrin laid Colan on his cot, the otter not responding to anything he did. The ferret left Colan staring blankly at the ceiling and moved to the main room. Sitting down on a couch, he thought over the day. There were too many coincidences for him to be comfortable. First, Colan gets kidnapped by Fytch, apparently under orders from Alspur, then he gets attacked. Both his parents and Colan’s are killed, and Alspur takes the throne. All this happened in less than two hours.
Torrin didn’t trust his brother, he moved for the throne far too quickly. Alspur knew about the attack, there was no doubt about that. Torrin stood up. He and Colan had to leave. Alspur would want to get rid of him to tie up loose ends, and he wasn’t about to stand around and wait for another attack.
Walking to his room, he put on his light leather armor and slung his saber over his back. Walking down to the armory, he took a bow and a quiver of arrows along with a couple daggers. Grabbing Colan’s saber, he picked up a suit of leather armor that he had ordered made for Colan and walked back to the main room.
He paused. Where would they go? Looking over at a map on the wall, he frowned. They would have to steal a boat from the harbor. Then his eyes fell on the forest and he remembered what Colan had been told. “The forest creates the shadows in which the fugitives hide.” He murmured, tracing his paw over the trees on the map. “I wonder how many beasts live in there, beneath the sight of the house of Aguinal?”
That would be where they would go. To the forest, and then they would go from there. Torrin headed to his room after barring the door. Alspur wouldn’t come tonight, and they needed all the rest they could get.