|[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Page by HFS: 2002 Designed by: FW Viper
Gifts-Hider Part 1
Copyright © 2001
A little warning. This story is set on the Gifts world and while it does have a connection to Gifts it features completely different characters. All dates used in any of the Gifts stories will be in Camron dating scheme where AF means After Founding. It takes place between Part 1 and Part 2 of Gifts.
Hider was what he was called and hiding is what he did. He was a slight ten year old with tangled red hair, but unlike many of the other naked urchins on the streets of Tenve, capital of Scart, a small but free Princedom several hundred miles south of Camron's border, he was clean, well as clean as he could be, without the good scrubbing that soap, would have allowed.
While he would have loved to take a bath with plenty of hot water and lots of soap, it was impossible, even if he would have been allowed into a bathhouse, he would have had to pay at least a copper, and to use the few needed coppers he stole, for that purpose would make him conspicuous and would show irresponsibility to what had become his CHILDREN.
That's how he thought of them. Twenty young children between the ages of four and twelve, all he stole and all they could scrounge went to feed their hungry mouths. How they had come under his care he didn't really know. One day he had been one of them and the next he was responsible for them.
He did not dare to steal large amounts, not even silvers, such a large amount, as even one silver would be to urchins such as himself, would have attracted the attention of the City Guard and the much more dangerous Hunters and allow them to concentrate on a fairly small area, and he would be too vulnerable a target if that occurred.
As a Magic User who would never have High Magic let alone be a Mage, his major magical gift of Concealment was probably unmatched by anyone except for a Great Mage. It had developed early and matured in his dangerous environment very quickly. He also had a small passive Empathic ability.
A beautiful child, he had no objection to offering himself as a prostitute, but something about him frightened off those who enjoyed young bodies, and only on a few occasions had he been able to sell his body. Six of his little band could and did attract those who were desired youngsters, on a regular basis, but he only allowed them to go with those his Empathic ability showed were truly after sex and not sadistic pleasures. When he was not with them they were only supposed to go with ones they had been with in the past, never chancing a stranger.
These youngsters, rarely earned even a copper, but they ate well and sometimes were sent off with food in the mornings, that they could share with their friends.
Hider was in Concealment, in one of the city squares, carrying a small bag, standing against the wall of a building. It was one of the smaller markets in the city which was why he had chosen it. It meant that there were fewer people to bump into, to inadvertently reveal his presence, and there were seldom any Hunters here.
He was about to dart forward to snatch some food to fill the bag when he went rigid, as the small procession that a high noble caused entered the square. First two guards and then four men carrying a plump noble in a litter. Trotting beside the litter was a small nude dark haired boy in a slave collar, then two additional guards. Hider saw that a dark-haired young woman, in her early to mid-twenties was paying particular attention to the noble party.
He cursed to himself as he realized that the guards following the litter were aware of her attention, and were talking to each other about it, trying to decide whether to do anything about her blatant interest.
He cursed himself for being a stupid fool, as he darted forward, threading through the market stalls, avoiding people with practised ease. Reaching her he kicked her in the side of the knee but since he was barefoot it wasn't that hard, but it got her notice. He hissed, "Stop playing so much attention to Considus, you're attracting too much attention to yourself." She didn't turn around immediately, kept looking at the noble and his guards, and then she snapped her fingers and nodded her head decisively and turned around, acting as if her looking at them, had simply been an accident while she was thinking about something.
It won her top marks, the guards who had been watching her were taken in completely and they now ignored her. She heard the voice, a very young voice she realized, saying reprovingly. "You've spoiled my raid. You're going to have to make up for it. That is if you want to know where Considus lives, without making yourself even more conspicuous. You should be able to get a half dozen loaves of bread and a skin of goat's milk without attracting any attention. When you leave take the street that Considus came out of and about a hundred yards along there'll be a narrow alley on your right. I'll wait for you there.
She took her time, cursing herself for the mistake she had made. It could have ruined her plans. She did some casual shopping before purchasing the food that Hider had told her to get, as well she added a couple of bottles of wine, as if she had a small dinner planned. It was getting toward late afternoon.
Leaving the square she strolled casually as if she had all the time in the world. She turned in at the indicated alley, wondering whether it was an ambush. It was dark in the alley but she had excellent night vision and her eyes adjusted quickly. Twenty feet from the opening, a small naked boy who had been sitting, back against the wall, jumped to his feet. "That was very stupid," he said reprovingly, and despite the fact that she agreed with him, she was inclined to giggle. That young treble voice saying exactly what her instructors would have said. "Nobles use off duty City Guards when they travel in the city. The prince lets them use a small number of guards at their homes but has forbidden them to use their own guards when they travel inside the city. You'll have to make sure you stay away from those two in the future. They're trained to remember people who come to their attention."
"I know," she said, contritely. "I was just so surprised. The slaveboy is my nephew Kinon, and I didn't expect to just come upon him like that."
"All right, as long as you don't get so careless again," Hider said grudgingly. "Here take my hand, it's going to be dark soon and since I know where your nephew is, I don't think you want to lose me. Oh," he giggled, "try not to think of what you're stepping in. The only good thing about these alleys is that they're too narrow for carts or wagons, so there shouldn't be any horse or mule dung." A pause, another giggle, "At least probably not."
Tana had been on a couple of main streets of Tenve, and she had a good sense of direction, but she was lost within minutes not even knowing which direction was north or south.
Finally after about a fifteen minutes walk, in which, she thanked the Gods that she hadn't stepped in anything soft, Hider stopped, and gave a perfect imitation of a Nightwitch, giving three calls.
She heard a reply in the same manner from two different directions. "Coast is clear." said Hider. He led her around back and slipped through a door, into a dimly lit, room. Looking up she could she the sky through a big chunk of a missing roof.
When she looked down she could see she was surrounded by a total of seventeen children, There were eight girls and nine boys.
Hider looked around at them anxiously, counting them. When he saw that three were missing, he asked anxiously, "Who are the others out with."
One them, a boy and probably the oldest of the children, assured him. "None of them are with strangers. Unfortunately, none of them will pay cash money either, but they're usually pretty generous with food."
One of the other boys gave an audible sigh, "It's too bad that Considus bought that slaveboy from Camron. He was a nice man and he always paid well and gave plenty of food to share."
One of the girls said with a little bit of resentment, "But he only liked boys, girls never had a chance with him."
Hider said, "I know. He even took me to his bed a couple of times. I didn't seem to frighten him like I do the others, and I was there at the Slave Market when they sold the slaveboy. Considus was there as usual, just to watch the boys parading by, and it wasn't until Marrko started bidding that he did as well. He was determined that the boy wouldn't fall into Marrko's hands. I saw him shudder when Marrko went to four thousand golds, but he went to forty-one hundred and Marrko finally quit."
"You've all heard the rumors about Marrko, and know about the boys who've disappeared. He hates nobles with a passion. If he'd purchased the Camron noble boy, the boy would have been lucky to live a week."
He turned to the woman, with his hand out, and she gave him the bag. Kneeling down he removed the contents. Once everything was out of the bag he divided the loafs into equal portions. Since with himself there were eighteen children, he divided each of the six loaves in thirds and handed them round. After pouring goat's milk for the youngest of the children into makeshift mugs, he let the others get their own and he took his after they were all finished.
All the food disappeared as if inhaled, within five minutes it was all gone. Hider stood up, and held up the wine bottles. "Use plenty of water with this wine. If any of you get drunk and I find out, I'll give you a whipping you'll never forget, and it'll be even worse if any of you get the little ones drunk."
Hider led Tana about a quarter of a mile away, where there was a small, mostly ruined house that only had part the walls still standing, that he used for his quarters. The boy spread a sack on the ground and offered her a seat. She asked, curious, "You don't stay with them?"
In the bright moonlight she saw him shake his head. "No, it would be too dangerous for them. If the Hunters found me with a group a children, they would just as likely kill them, as to leave them alive."
"What are Hunters? I've heard them mentioned but nobody will tell me anything more about them." she asked.
"The Prince's grandfather, wasn't a Magic User, and he resented those that were. He began to encourage those who were here, to leave, though he and his descendants have always tolerated Healers, and Hunters. Hunters are active Empaths. They can sense when someone is really afraid of them. Out of the ordinary, type of fear that is. When they find a person like that, if he has some importance they'll take him to a Healer to have his aura read. If the Healer finds indication of magical ability, then those people will be exiled."
"If it's someone of the Lower Merchant class or even lower then they will kill them, or perhaps set them to hard labor, which is the same thing, it just takes longer to die. With no-accounts like me, they don't even bother to take us to a Healer. They just start killing, and if that person is in a group, they're not too worried about finding out which one is actually the Magic User. That's why I don't dare stay with the others."
She was shocked, though she didn't show it, she was back to being the professional she had been trained to be. "Why do you stay, here? With your ability of Concealment, you would be welcome in almost any other country, and it wouldn't be hard to get out of the country."
He shrugged, "I used to be just one of them, then suddenly a couple of years ago, I was suddenly the leader and with my ability of Concealment I can steal much more than most of the others combined. The others would have much less of a chance to survive if I left. With what I steal, and what they are able to scrounge, and prostitution, at times we still barely get by."
She changed the subject, "What about Considus?"
"Well you heard just about all you need to know about him. When you see him, he looks like a plump, petulant spoiled brat. He's the classic case of appearances being deceiving. He's actually a kind, courageous person. To go against Marrko, he had to be. Even the Prince is a bit afraid of Marrko." said Hider.
She decided to tell him why she was there, he seemed so knowledgeable about his own society. "Right now many children both noble and common are disappearing from Camron, all of them into Madron, except Kinon. It has been determined that someone is trying to start a war between our two countries by kidnapping noble children. We're not going to move until everything is in place, but it was determined that Kinon was kidnapped by someone who had no connection to the one trying to start a war, so my team and I were given permission to try to rescue him."
He nodded in understanding and then thought for a few minutes before speaking. "If Kinon was an ordinary slaveboy Considus would be quite willing to sell him back, Gods he might even give him back to you. He can easily afford the golds he spent on the boy. Under the circumstances he can't. For two reasons. First. The Palace receives notification of all slaveboys to be sold in Scart. The Prince rarely sees any of those reports. He would have seen the report on Kinon. To sell a crested noble boy of Camron, he had to have given specific written permission."
"Second. He made a very serious enemy, when he purchased a boy that Marrko was bidding on. In the past those who have bid against the man have disappeared. Only the fact that he's a noble and in favor with the Prince, allowed him to defy Marrko. If he ever loses the favor of the Prince he'll be dead within hours."
He paused to allow her to digest the information "However there might be a chance. Rumor has it Considus has been moving his money out of the country. If true, if you can give him and his staff safe haven, and find a way to get him and his household staff out of the country, you can probably get your nephew back."
"There's a Camron ship in the harbor, acting as a merchantman, just to provide us with transport, and there's a couple of warships over the horizon to provide us with an escort. We can easily manage a few extra passengers. In fact we could easily manage an additional twenty-one small bodies, with no crowding at all."
He voice caught in his throat, "You'll take us with you?" he asked, excitedly.
"Yes, I'd take more if I could, but getting them aboard ship would be impossible." she assured him.
"We'll do what we can to help you, people tend to ignore us so we make good lookouts." He grinned at her, white teeth flashing in the moonlight. "Also I think I can get in touch with Considus for you. The two times he took me to his bed, I went to his gate and offered myself to him."
Six – Two days later – Late afternoon
The rest of her team had agreed with Tana's idea, and had prepared over the last couple of days. Now if Hider could just get in and talk with Considus, they were ready to move. His band was in the area, acting as lookouts and Tana and her team were hidden in a close by alley.
He used the small gong which was on the gate to announce his presence. The two gate guards, came out of the gatehouse. The older a middle aged man asked, "What do you want boy?"
"I need a couple of coppers, I just wondered if the noble Considus could use a bedwarmer for the night." he asked seductively. Well his idea of seduction.
The older guard shook his head, "He bought a slaveboy. He hasn't taken anyone else to his bed since."
Hider looked at the younger man, who was obviously interested. "How about you, sir?"
The younger man looked at his superior. "How about it, sarge."
The older man looked at the little boy. He wasn't interested in boys, but he could see that Hider was pretty. "All right, he's been here before. But you'll have to keep him in the gatehouse, until your shift is up, then take him to your room."
He unlocked the gate and opened it enough for the boy to slip in, and then closed and locked it again. The younger guard was already leading Hider into the gatehouse, hand gently playing with the hair on the nape of his neck. When the guard sat down, and drew the boy between his legs, Hider kissed him more from happiness than from passion, as the man gently stroked his back and buttocks.
"All right. I said after your shift is over." Before the younger guard had a chance to release him the boy whispered in his ear, "How would Considus like to get out of the country?"
The man took his arms tightly and pushed him backwards, holding him at arms length. The older man said mildly, "I didn't mean you had to throw him away."
"Sarge, he asked me if Considus would like to get out of the country!"
The older man's short sword whipped out of his sheath, and he pressed the tip of his blade to Hider's throat, The boy didn't struggle and just looked mildly at the blade. Somewhat embarrassed by his overreaction, the man sheathed his sword, smiling sheepishly. He shook his finger at the boy, "Boy, I put the sword away but I can get it out just as quickly and you know no one would care what happened to you. Tell me why you are here."
"The aunt of the slaveboy Considus bought is here, in Tenve, about a quarter of a mile from here. She's a Camron King's Messenger and she has a team of four others with her. They have a ship ready in the harbor. The tide's ready to change and that'll help them get out of the harbor. If Considus wants to get out of Scart she's ready to take him, and any of his retainers who want to go with him."
Seven – Early Evening
As Hider had said a couple of nights before, Considus's appearance was deceiving. When given the proposition, he acted quickly and decisively. Within minutes, abandoning everything they walked through the gate, Considus, his cook, and housekeeper, the gardener and his son and his four personal guards, and Kinon.
As they made their way down to the harbor, and the abandoned wharf that had been chosen as the departure point, Hider's band filtered in to join them. There were half a dozen boats ready to load with passengers and they left at five minute intervals. Considus waited for the last one to leave. It was about ready to pull out, when they heard voices from the wharf above them. "I'm sure I heard something coming from around here," said one of the voices loudly and vehemently.
Hider said, in a whisper, "Go, and try not to splash too much."
As the men began to pull on the muffled oars, he grasped both sides of the boat and concentrated with all his might on Concealment.
As the boat glided away from the wharf, it faded from sight, and when the men who had been talking reached the end of the wharf only the occasional splash made by an oar was visible, and they took that to be fish jumping out of the water.
When they reached the ship, they were quickly unloaded, the boat gotten back on board. The remaining anchor that was holding the ship in place was cut and the ship was allowed to drift out to sea with the tide. Nobody on the galley warships even noticed. Once well out of the harbor the sails were raised and the ship headed out to sea to join her own warship to be escorted home to Camron.
Tana at the rail with her arms around Hider's chest watched the city disappear behind them. "I wish we had been able to free all of her children." she said regretfully to the boy.
"Don't worry. I intend to come back and when I do Scart is going to need a new Prince." He spoke with such absolute certainty that Tana shivered with complete belief.