This city has rotted since the death of the Sultan. Rats in human form litter the streets, scavenging desperately for their next meal. I am surprised the people have not been ravaged by plague. Corruption and greed rule the market places. Preying on those desperate for food to feed their starving families. One loaf of bread is now the price of what five would have been a year ago.
The full moon casts a ghostly light over the marketplace below, slipping through the heavy winter clouds. They will be here soon. They always do their business at night – away from the eyes of the palace guard. Not that the palace guard would do anything to stop them. They turn a blind eye to most things.
I refuse to. Not when it comes to this.
Aneria, my companion, slips up by my side. Crouching low on her belly beside me, we peer down from the roof top we have scaled. I slip my hand through her fur, rubbing down her back for a moment, gaining comfort in her presence. She always gives me strength. My shackled pup – a full grown she-wolf now. I feel her deep growling purr beneath my fingertips. She keeps her eyes trained on the street below.
I know when they arrive by the abrupt stop in her purr and the sneer of her teeth as she snarls. I turn my attention back to the street as I see a rickety old horse and carriage pull into the marketplace. The driver is heavily shrouded, his clothes dark and heavy, only revealing part of his face. He pulls his horse up short, taking a chance to quickly glance around before slipping off his seat.
I press myself further down as someone emerges from one of the market tents the horseman has stopped in front of. He, however, has not gone to much effort to hide himself. He is dressed in fine clothing, a rare sight in this part of the city. Colourful silk shirt and pants. Jewels decorate his fingers and dangle from his neck, twinkling in the moon light as he grasps the horseman’s hand briefly. They waste no more time as the horseman moves to his carriage and unlocks the door, jumping inside as the rich marketer stands by.
My heart sinks into my stomach as I see what the horseman throws out of his carriage. A gagged and bound young woman. I see out the corner of my eye Aneria’s hackles raising, her fur standing on end as she trembles. Binds will always affect her this way.
The marketer takes a step back from the woman thrashing on the ground, reaching out desperately for his help. The horseman lifts her to her feet, ignoring her attempts at an escape like they were nothing to him. She must be weak from trying.
Finally the marketer speaks, “She’s young. She has that much going for her. More years to spend on training her.”
My hand tightens on my dagger as he reaches for her arm, squeezing the muscle to the point where she cries out through her gag. “Not very strong – won’t do well as a heavy lifter. But I could see her fetching a fair price with the slavers looking for cleaners. She’ll do.”
I have heard enough.
I stand up, unsheathing my daggers as Aneria howls. They flinch and turn up to see me. They know of me. They have all heard the rumours.
“Lupa!” The marketer screams, turning and making a run for it as the horseman throws the woman onto his horse, cutting the ties to the carriage as he does.
I nod Aneria towards the direction the marketer ran off and she leaps, sliding down the tarps and landing gently on the ground before racing off. I take a different route as the horseman mounts his steed and ushers it into a gallop down the street. I leap the small gaps between the houses in the area, knowing there are only a selected few ways he can run. Some streets are too narrow for a horse to ride through - you end up going the long way around.
I always catch them in the end. A horse only slows you down.
I head for the centre of the city, an easier feat for me along the roof tops. I hear Aneria howl, her call filling the night sky and I smile – she had reached the marketer in mere moments.
I pick up my speed, pushing my legs harder. He will be rounding the last corner into the main street soon. The last rooftop is always the hardest to make. A risky jump. I sheath my daggers as I come to it, widening my stride and pushing off the very edge of the building, propelling my body over the chasm. I slam my body against the side of the building as I hook my fingers onto the edge, scrapping my legs rather bad as I try to get my footing to haul me up. I hiss, knees scrapped and raw, jogging over to see the horseman making his way down the road.
Breathe. Three… two… one! I leap, dagger drawn as I land right on top of the racing horse and plunge my dagger into his back. Settled into the saddle, I let him fall as I keep the woman from the same fate and regain control of the horse with the tug of its reigns. I pull it back into a quick stop. As soon as the horse comes to a complete stop, I slip from the saddle and pull the woman gently off of it, careful not to jar her too much as I cut her bindings and the gag from her mouth.
“Bless you, Lupa!” she wails, reaching for my hand, bringing it to her trembling lips as tears pour down her muddy face. “Bless you.”
I smile, somewhat uncomfortable with her display of gratitude. But I grasp her hand back, offering her what comfort I can.
“How did this happen to you?” I question. Each story is different. Some end up as slaves through debt. Sometimes as punishment for thieving food.
“I was travelling from across the sea. The ship I was on was attacked by men in dark clothes that hid their faces and took me along with several others. From what I could tell, we were all bound and blindfolded and taken onto another ship that brought us to this land. More than that, I do not know.”
More than just herself was taken? Where did they end up? I worry over this to myself, not wishing to stress her with more questions.
“Do not worry.” I said, squeezing her hand in reassurance, “You’re safe now. They cannot hurt you anymore.”
She smiles through her tears.
I hear something shift behind me and look back to see Aneria emerging from the shadows, carrying in her blood-stained mouth something small and made of leather. I pet the woman’s hand as she startles at the sight of the she-wolf.
“It is alright. She won’t hurt you. She is my friend.” My words only slightly calm her tense form.
Aneria, sensing the poor woman’s unease slows and lowers to crawling on her belly to my side before dropping the leather piece of fabric from her mouth. A pouch. I shake it and hear the tell-tale sound of jingling coins. I turn the hand I grasp palm up and poor half of the contents into her hand, leaving her gasping and cradling them like a precious baby’s head.
“This should get you a boat out and far away from here with provisions for the journey.” I said, hooking the lightened pouch onto my belt, “Take the horse and do not look back until you have this city far behind you.”
“Bless you, Lupa.”
I smile gently helping her to her feet, “Please. My name is Trixks.”
She beams, tears running down her face as I grab the horse’s reigns. Going through the bags strapped to its harness. I flash her the blade strapped to them, telling her not to pause in using it. I hand over an empty pouch for the woman to place her coins before I help her onto the animal’s back. Unsettled by Aneria’s presence, it nickers nervously, shifting on the spot. I stroke its muzzle and brow, hushing it; I whisper gentle words in its ear.
Once I feel the horse’s quivering settle, I give the woman the go-ahead. “Safe journey.”
“I will not forget this, Trixks. I wish there was some way I could repay you for delivering me from slavery.”
“Just live out your life a free woman. That will be my reward.” I stroke Aneria’s head as she brushes her face against my legs, humming happily.
She kisses her fore and third fingers before touching them over my heart and gesturing to the sky. A silent prayer for my life. She flicks the horse into a gallop down the street and out the main gates.
Everyone deserves to be free. I muse, Be they animal or human.
As I watch the woman disappear into the rays of the rising sun, Aneria brushes her teeth against my skin, drawing my attention.
“I know, girl. Let’s go home.”
New posters are up. A higher bounty. They found the bodies; a wealthy well-known merchant and a seemingly harmless villager. One torn to pieces and buried under his tent. The other was stabbed in the back and left in the gutter. The people are blind to the truth behind their deaths. The guards call for our heads.
Lupa and the Silver Wolf
For the murders and theft of twelve men within the past year.
Armed and dangerous.
Dead or Alive.
Have any information to offer to assist in the capture of these dangerous criminals?
Contact Captain of the Guard:
They never see the lives we save. That we free. They do not see the dwindling numbers of slaves in this city. They see death and ask for ‘justice’.
Aneria whines, sensing my melancholy, and kisses my check and clenched hand. I turn my head into her fur and release an unsettled breath as I hug her to me. I try my best not to let the tears fall but they slip free as Aneria trembles along with me.
“She is no murderer!” a voice screams through the roaring crowd gathered in the public square. I pull my face from my she-wolf’s neck and look down to see a young man push through to the town crier’s stage. The guards start to push their way through after him as he begins to scream out to the people.
“She saved me. And my mother. She saved us from slavery as we were taken over a debt! A debt that took our food, our home and my father’s life.”
I remember him. They killed his father for resisting, for trying to get his family to run.
The guards roar and tackle the one person brave enough to stand up to the crowd into the ground. The crowd screams and backs away, cowering like mice. Aneria growls and I feel my blood burn. I yell, leaping from my place above the stage and land on the back of one of the guards and yanking him, by the hair, off of the young man. Aneria follows quickly after, tackling the others, pushing them off the stage. Raising her hackles, she growls and snaps her teeth as I gather the beaten man to his feet. I have time to see a flash of recognition and deeply lain gratitude before I hear the guardsmen gaining their feet again. The crowd is standing in gasping awe. Frightened of me or not – I cannot tell. I have not shown myself in the daylight since my early years.
I turn, daggers drawn, as I stand in front of the young man - ready to protect him again. The guard puts up a confident front but I see the tremble in his grip, the unsettled hold of his gaze. “You are under arrest. Come with us calmly.”
A scoff seems inappropriate at this point in time – I cannot help myself as Aneria flicks her tongue along her bared teeth, ears flattened against her head. A few of the guards shuffle nervously. They are right to fear her. She does not stand down once threatened – she fights back. A chained down pup - no longer.
The first guard brave enough to face us leaps forth, drawing his curved khopesh. He roars, hoping to intimidate or perhaps throw Aneria off by the loud call. It does not work. A quick blow to his skull with my boot drops him to the ground in a second.
Sleep off the splitting headache you will have by the end of the day.
Thinking better of one on one, the remaining hand full of guards decide to make their charge together. Raised khopesh above their heads, I search for another way as not to end up on the other end of those blades. I sheathe my daggers and leap to the ground, rolling under the rally of armed men and coming up covered in sand behind them. I waste no time in their recovery as I kick my legs into gear and dash through the crowd. I hear Aneria snarl and barrel through the guards behind me. They know to part like the red sea for her rather than risk getting their throats ripped out.
More guards enter the town square and I make a skidding turn to avoid their strikes. Kicking up sand, I jump for one of the tarps, hoisting myself up and out of their reach. I dash across the sheet covered entryways of the merchant shops. The guards barrel through the people, trying to keep up with me through the traffic. Some villagers scream and cower as I leap overhead. Others cheer, purposely trying to block the guards’ path, buying me time.
Not all are ignorant.
My heart sinks into my stomach as my foot fails to meet a solid surface, instead tearing through the tarp and crashing down into a fruit stand. The merchant screams profanities at me as the guard roar in triumph, gaining on me. I quickly crawl free of the spoiled food and stumble. Hissing through clenched teeth, a sharp pain runs up my leg. A shard of wood is embedded in my calf, having pierced through my leather boot. Aneria whines, smelling the blood on me and looks back at the oncoming guards with the first sign of fear I have seen since the day I found her. I reach down and yank out the wood, careful not to bite my tongue as I hold back my scream and fling it away from me.
As I weakly make my way, I watch the crowd as it wars with the guardsmen, holding them back and pushing them on. One villager leaps onto one from behind, disabling his arms as he catches them in a head and arm lock. They still push on, leaving their helpless comrade behind to fend for himself as he falls to the dirt. I am the main prize in my injured state.
I place a hand on Aneria for support as I try to avoid putting too much pressure on my leg, feeling the blood ooze from the wound and bathe my foot within my boot. My ears ring as we turn down an alleyway. Looking around I see a way to climb up the side of the house. The windows and washing lines are placed well.
Grasping her head I look Aneria in the eye and tell her in my strongest tone to, “Go!”
She whines touching her nose to mine.
I flinch; I wish she could follow me. But she will be safer going off on her own. I will not be able to slow her down this way.
I rub her ears, “Once I lose them, I will meet you back home.” Her ears perk up at the mention of ‘home’; she recognises that word at least. She looks back up the alley. “I know. I’ll be alright.”
She whimpers, licking my check as I release her.
Aneria turns back and dashes out the alley way, drawing a few of the guardsmen after her.
I reach up to the first window sill and pull my weight up, relying on the strength of my arms as I avoid pushing against my injured leg. I have mere moments before they realize I am no longer with my she-wolf. I weave up the wall, clinging from windowsill to clothes line and back again. My arms protest, screaming in agony and trembling from the strain of having to bare my weight almost completely on their own. I am one clothes line away from the top when I hear the shout that I have been found. I brace myself as they fling rocks at me, trying to make me drop. One cuts across my cheek, making my eyes water. I finally reach the top and use the last of my will to pull myself up onto the roof.
I collapse, catching my breath as I brace my hand against my leg. With no time to wrap my wounds, I push on. I cannot tell where I am going. My mind only drives my body away from the yelling voices below. I can only hope they give up the chase before I bleed out.
I need a place to hide. A place to rest. I cannot risk leading them home though. Not our sanctuary – not with Aneria going there when she outruns the men tailing her. And she will outrun them. She always does.
I frown, trying to see through the blurriness of my vision. I think I have reached the centre of the city. The palace of Agrabah. Or rather – the wall that surrounds the grounds of the palace. I consider it for a moment as I look back over my shoulder. No guards follow me along the rooftops. They will not know if I went over it or not. They might think me too stupid to try it.
Then again. There may be more guards inside the grounds… I grit my teeth as my head throbs and my vision swims. I just have to risk it.
I scan for a way in. A way over. Under. Through.
A tree. Its branches curl over, reaching out for freedom outside the wall. Strong enough branches to hold me.
I hobble over and slip into the foliage, careful not to let anything touch the cut on my face – last thing I need is for it to get infected. I brace my weight against the thick branches above my head as I balance over the wall and settle into the weaving trunk of the tree. I search the grounds around me.
A beautiful garden of green, the likes I have never seen before, surrounds me. Exotic flowers. Singing birds fly across the vast valley before coming to perch on top of the marble fountain. The centre piece of the garden, the water pours from the Water Goddess’ cupped hands. Clear blue that dances with the afternoon sun. My dried lips ache to drink. But I cannot risk it. It is so open within these walls. I would be struck down before I made it halfway.
A deep bark makes me cower lower into the tree. I watch as a dog – a large Alsatian – races along the cobble stone path towards the fountain, chasing off the birds as it stops for a drink. It is so large, it must be male. He could very well match Aneria in his size. He is gorgeous. Well raised and cared for.
“Valcan.” A voice that is distinctly male calls and the dog jerks his head out of the water and rushes back to meet his master. A young master. A young crowned master.
The orphaned prince of Agrabah: Roxas.