Life of a young boy is tough if you are not born into a wealthy enough family. When you are an orphan with a thick accent, things are even harder. Etienne Flores had learnt that fact the day he was cast of the ship where his parents had died of Red Fever. He had been ill too and had no idea how he even got to the ship. When the ship moored in the harbour of Leavesview he was left with a small purse with few trinkets as the captain had taken all the cash. His parents were ferried to the public graveyard to be buried in the common grave while he tried to understand what the people were saying. The language was supposed to be the same in both Rose Throne and in the Empire but to Etienne, it was gibberish. Some words he recognised but most were alien to him as was the town he found himself all the sudden.
Most children of his age would be bawling their eyes out and it was something Etienne fought hard against. He recalled his grandfather and his stories about how they were of old nobility. Nobility who had lost it all and fallen all the way down to a farmer but that should not prevent them from still acting to their old status. Men did not cry was his lesson, not openly at least. Composure and acting dignified was what grandfather had taught him and to his father too. He had endured the hardship as if it was nothing to him. Mother had not been as willing to follow some old code she had never been part of but she did say at times that how father acted was what had drawn her to him. There was something so trustworthy in his behaviour. He did not complain and took on the troubles cast against him with a stoic smile. Etienne had tried to emulate him since he understood how.
It was not easy but he managed to march off the docks and find a secluded corner where he let his emotions rule. There was a taste of blood in his mouth from the effort as he bit the insides of his mouth to keep composure. A man without a composure is not worth to be called a man was grandfathers favourite saying. He had died of the fever but even at death’s door, he had remained silent and cogent enough to tell father to leave the farm. The disease was ravaging the countryside and staying there would merely doom them to die of the same disease. It just was too late at that point. Halfway to port, mother started to show symptoms of the fever. They had managed to secure passage to The Empire and cover her symptoms but at sea Etienne got sick.
In a way, they had been quite lucky that the captain was a decent man. He had merely locked all those who got ill into the hold instead of casting them overboard as most of the captains would do. There was no cure for the fever and it was very easy to catch but isolation prevented infection. Most died without medicine but with medicine, you had nearly fifty-fifty chance of surviving. There had not been any on the ship. The cook had insisted on feeding Etienne with things from the Imperial colonies and those probably saved him from the life of a cripple. He did not have any of the after-effects survivors of Red Fever usually had. Torn muscles and twisted limbs from the cramps with a reddish tinge on their skin marked those who survived. Etienne merely had a little finger which refused to straighten without help and it kept curling up on its own.
All things considered, someone would call him a lucky boy, which was not a sentiment he would have agreed with in his hour of despair. He was huddling between barrels while his little body spasmed with grief. He pounded the barrels with his fists when he was about to cry out in anguish as he did not want anyone to see him. Not in the state he was. He was of nobility and that came with a duty to act in a certain way. That was not much to cling to but when you have nothing else, even such a small thought can be a lifesaver, something to strive for when all is lost. A little boy in a strange town, in a strange land with a strange language.
Etienne was leaning forward a bit as the hunger pains clawed at his stomach. He had not eaten anything since getting off the ship. He had managed to get water from the many fountains almost littering the town. The number of the fountains had amazed Etienne. Clean water was flowing from almost everywhere and for free but water alone was not enough to live.
“Uuut of de Bay, rat!”
Etienne blinked and tried to comprehend what the man was saying. He barely understood what was said and paid for his slowness by being pushed harshly to side. The man was carrying a barrel on his shoulder and even if Etienne did not understand what he said next, but he understood the tone. Cussing did not really need words to be understood. Something made a noise as the man passed him, it was a small pouch. Etienne picked it up and looked into it, there was local currency in it. For a brief moment, his hunger tried to make him hightail it out of there in a hurry. It was a short battle which the stomach lost.
“Oy, haat is minee!”
The man had turned and saw Etienne holding the pouch. There was anger in his eyes. Etienne tried to explain what had happened but his fast and clearly as unintelligible speech did not help.
The burly hand slapped right on to the cheek of Etienne, making him spin on the spot before falling to the ground. His ears ringed and everything was waving or doubled in his eyes. The pouch had flown from his hand and as the man was roughly shaking him and yelling something, most likely about the money, Etienne could not stop vomiting. It was just liquid but made the man throw him to side with another string of curses. Etienne scrambled away as fast as he could. With a spinning head, he brushed painfully against the corners but managed to lose the man quickly as the alleyways were narrow and there was lots of traffic there.
Etienne wandered around the town and saw food in stores. The temptation to walk in and run away with a loaf of bread was battling hard with his consciousness and honesty. So far honesty had been able to keep temptation at bay but hunger was rallying troops against honesty. The battle inside his head was causing it to hurt. There was plenty of food around and he had none, who would miss one loaf? What good would it do for him to die of hunger in this foreign town? Parents were not around to admonish him so why not just take it?
Hunger overreached and the thought of his parents made him do another mad dash into somewhere hidden. Grief overpowered the bangs of hunger while Etienne cried silently behind a box. He was finding the life to be too much to bear but at the same time, he was confronted by the words of grandfather. A man will bear what comes and dies if fates so degree. Killing oneself was also something Etienne did not even know how to approach. Death was not alien to him due living on a farm but that had always been animals and done by Father behind the shed. Daylight was starting to get scarce in the alleys so Etienne left his hiding place and walked down to the marketplaces. Peddlers were starting to pack their things and stores were closing their shutters for the night.
Etienne wandered around keeping his eyes open for food. He hoped someone would forget something on the market but it seemed the peddlers were quite tidy. Had Etienne ever learnt to read he would have seen the signs notifying that littering on the market was punishable by a fine. No one was leaving rubbish behind as the plots of the peddlers were marked and there was a constable roaming the market to see what was left behind.
As the marketplace was clearing up Etienne’s hopes were dashed. He fought back the tears while standing there until last of the peddlers had walked off. The constable approached him and waved his hand, motioning him to leave. Perhaps seeing how pitiable and miserable Etienne was, the constable dug something from his pocket and pushed it into his hand and shooed him away. Etienne held tight to the thing and rushed away. When he was alone he looked at it. It was a small piece of jerky with some lint on it but it was akin to a marvellous feast to him. He bit into it hungrily and did not notice the sailors swaggering along. The bunch swayed left and right and literally walked over Etienne in their drunken stupor. He was trampled and he lost hold of the piece of jerky. The bunch marched on ignoring him as he frantically crawled around, trying to find the small piece of hope which he had lost. It was getting dark and try as he might, he had no luck in finding it. All he had was the small piece in his mouth and it was dissolving so fast that it could have been made of snow.
“Almund, can you see that little boy over there by the statue of Captain Lorne?”
The carriage was moving slowly as the morning traffic into the town had started before Lord and Lady Bennion had managed to start their trek. One of the horses had looked bit tired and Lady Bennion had insisted that it had to be replaced with one who was not tired. Unharnessing and harnessing a new horse took its time and now they were unavoidably late. They would be quite late by the time they arrived at their destination due to the traffic but Lord Bennion had learnt long ago that some issues are not worth fighting over and animals were one of those, so they would be late and he would need to apologise for that.
“Where? Oh, you mean that lad with the tabard?”
“Yes, quite a peculiar dress is it not?”
Lord Bennion leaned out of the window to catch a better look at the boy before he was out of sight.
“I say, it is indeed a peculiar dress for a street urchin. To me, it looked like what some noble houses in the Rose Throne wear. He did not look like he was part of any group of enjoys.”
Lord Bennion had not heard of any Rose Throne nobility coming to Leavesview and it piqued his interest.
“Say, did I imagine it or was he rather a dirty looking boy?”
Lord Bennion queried as he could no longer see the boy. He stroked his little moustaches with a furrowed brow. He missed how his wife rolled her eyes over his moustache stroking. Lady Bennion found the whole concept of moustache to be ridiculous but it was a fad amongst the lords.
“Yes, my dear. He was very dirty. It looked like he had slept in those clothes in a trash heap. Not to mention how skinny he was.”
Lord Bennion pondered about telling the coachman to turn back but as the road suddenly cleared and they were making a good time he hesitated. The relationship with Rose Throne was relatively stable at the moment but not so good that nobles would come all the way to Leavesview, which was the northernmost town of the Empire.
“Dear me, what has worked you to such an agitation Almund? One could screw a helmet to your furrows.”
“Excuse me, what?”
“I am asking what is the matter, you look constipated, your brow is like a newly ploughed field.”
“That boy. I am wondering how he came to be here? He definitely was dressed as a page of a noble house. I could not make out the markings so I do not know of which house he belongs to. Are there Throners in Leavesview and if so why?”
Lady Bennion pulled out a booklet from her bag and quickly sketched what she recalled of the livery. She offered the booklet to Lord Bennion who was again annoyingly stroking his scraggly moustache. He looked at the drawing intently and sighed.
“Well, these markings are common in the southern parts of the Rose Throne. This stork-like figure here is a bog walker I would guess.”
“A bog walker? That sounds like something dreadful out of a scary story.”
“Oh, it is just a stork with a silly name. It lives in the southern marshes and is used by nobility there. It has peculiar legs which allow it to walk on top of the marsh without sinking. These other markings are familiar to me but I cannot place them without my books. They are not common, that I am sure of. Probably some obscure family but what are they doing here?”
The carriage started to rock badly and stopped the conversation as they entered the gatehouse. The road there was made very uneven on purpose to prevent anyone just forcing their way in or out. It was not really needed but the cost to rebuild it was too much and the hindrance too small. As they cleared the gatehouse the carriage sped up.
“I do not know why that boy is here but he looked quite pitiful.”
Lord Bennion thought for a moment before replying.
“We could go back? We are already late from the party.”
“No, it would be folly to think that boy would remain there waiting for us. We could be spending hours or even days searching him. We better get to this party where a bunch of lords will be rubbing their upper lip to keep their scraggly hairs in order.”
Lord Bennion wanted to retort someway but thought better of it. It was a nuisance to have the moustache but it was expected of lords at the moment. It was silly to follow trends but the mantle of lordship was very new for Almund, merely two years since his father had passed. He was trying to learn the ropes still and did not want to make waves.
“You know, I could fix that moustache for you if you just let me. I have thought about it and read about these things. Cosmetics is such an interesting subject even it is rather vain to let it rule your choices.”
The barb hit straight but Lord Bennion just smiled and said.
“How would you fix it?”
Lord Bennion smiled and pulled out a small tin. When it was opened a smell of sandalwood filled the cabin.
“I am still experimenting with the amounts so you have to endure the smell, it dissipates quite fast.”
She dipped her finger into the tin and rubbed her fingers together for a while and reached to spread the concoction on the feeble moustache.
“Just rub it in and then shape them as you wish.”
Lord Bennion did as ordered and started to smile broadly. The hairs remained still and the smell was quite overpowering but nice. He spent some time to marvel at the idea.
“Darling, I think you have created a new fad.”