Outside, pandemonium reigned. Alora glanced about. It was wall to wall people. Instead of taking a step back to press herself against the walkway and wait for an opening in the crowd, she took a giant step forward. A path cleared immediately. "Just like magic." She thought and ignored the wide-eyed stares and mumbled prayers.
She arched up onto her toes to see if she could spot Loki. His broad back was easily recognisable. She noticed his head was bowed as he concentrated on not stepping on his small charge.
"He sure isn't that careful with me." She mused.
She thought of the time he'd dozed off and smashed her foot beneath one of his huge platter hooves. It had been like an egg being crushed by an anvil and she had screamed and tried to yank her foot free. The sudden noise had startled him and he'd woken up and walked forward and caught her foot again with his back hoof before she could scramble out of the way.
She'd laid up in the woods long enough for the rumor to start up that she was dead. Her foot had swollen up to twice its size and she'd spent her days wondering how much she'd make if she dressed him out and sold him for food.
Alora watched as the pair drew closer. Loki had obviously tapped into his best manners, the ones he reserved for everyone but her. She started towards them but quickly stopped when she saw the look of absolute fear on the boy's face.
It didn't take a lot on her part to figure out the boy now recognized her. She was aware of all the yarns that enabled parents to keep their pestiferous offspring on a tight rope but the boy before her looked as though he'd been fed a steady line of garbage all his life. She stood quiet and waited to see what he would do.
"What a really great horse." He thought. He wondered if the lady might give him a ride if he asked nicely enough. And three pieces of silver on top of that! It was his lucky day. He glanced up and caught sight of Alora. He stopped. The reins slid through his suddenly lax fingers and his eyes widened. His balls did a quick double-time up into his stomach.
"Gamma didn't lie!" was his overpowering thought as his mind fearfully reverted back to what he'd called his grandmother when he was five-years-old.
(Derek,you steal those apples from the market? Twiceborn'll get you! Church ain't gonna save no little light-fingered hooligan,don't you know that??)
Oh,the nights he'd lain awake and waited for The Twiceborn to climb through his window and steal him away because he'd lied to his parents! Or got caught throwing dice with his friends. Or called his granny a dried-up old prune for making him stay in and learn his letters. He'd just come to the shaky conclusion that his Grandma was a better liar than he was (and a rather sadistic one too, he would've thought if he were a bit older) but now he realized she'd been telling the truth all along.
Hadn't lied at all, nosiree, because this was The Twiceborn and he'd been stupid enough to march right up to her and bring her her horse. Big,salty tears rolled down his cheeks. He could already hear his mother's anguished voice after he'd been packed off to the Underrealms.
(My boy? My boy's gone?? He did what?? He fetched her horse for her? A favor? And he fed it peppermint leaves and patted it???)
His father would just sit and cry. He'd never recover from the loss of his only son. His grandma though was another story. She'd probably laugh and say, "I tried to tell him! Yanked off to those Underrealms and don't even know his letters!" Then she'd laugh again and spit some snuff. Down amongst the murderers and the lunatics of the UnderRealms, being unable to spell would not buy him any respect.
Alora watched the boy's internal struggle and thought that, maybe, she could salvage something. Somehow take some of the fear away.
"Hey,you did a good job fetching him." She said gently and smiled. She pulled out some coins. "Here. You've earned this."
He stared at the money like it was an offering of the plague. Beneath all his fear, the balls drawn so tight he wouldn't see them until he was thirty( But I won't need them! Not in The Underrealms!), and the damp patch on the front of his trousers was the dirty realization he'd been tricked.
Grandma had said that The Twiceborn was a withered old crone with long,pointy teeth. And eyes that could look at you and know every bad thing you'd ever done.
(A soulreader Derek, that's what she is. Probably be a blessin for everybody if she ran across you. She'd still be standing there readin long after the rest of us was dead and gone)
He'd recognised the black leathers and the rune-sketched sword but not the fragile, almost delicate features. They'd slid past his defenses with a terrifying ease and darted into that special place where a boy first sees a girl. Really sees her. For the first time. That had now been taken from him.
"I don't want your coins!" He screamed shrilly. Loki rolled his eyes and stepped back.
"And I ain't goin to the UnderRealms with you either! You need someone,take my grandma but leave me alone!"
Sobbing, he turned and raced off through the crowd on legs dangerously close to collapse.
Alora watched him go. Her fingers tightened around the coins. People claimed she could steal souls and raise the dead. Walk the UnderRealms while life still beat in her chest. But some things...though small and overlooked...contained more power than she'd ever witnessed. The boy's tears,and his running away, those things held the strange power to break her heart.
The realization was like a slap to the face. Oh,she could hide behind arrogance and believe her witty thoughts all she wanted but here was true strength. The one that left her standing hand out and hurt exposed for anyone to see.