A Hers to Save Short Story
By Michelle Connor
His small figure went unnoticed as he shuffled from one shadow to the next. Emmeline will be mad at me, but what other choices do I have. Herveus were so hungry his belly even stopped its constant rumbling for substance. He knew his sister was giving him her portions of what little food they manage to scrounge. More often than not it were a mere mouthful or starting to rot. He may be only seven summers old, but he could see how listless she was becoming.
He followed his target around another bend. The coins clinking together with each step the man took. The male's clothing gave away his wealth. A leaf green surcoat stood in stark contrast against the filthy cobblestone streets. Herveus looked down at his own bare feet covered with cuts and felt envious of the man's leather boots. He will sure not miss a few coins.
He crept closer. The enticing aroma of beef pies swirled around him, as he past a stall diverting his attention for a mere moment. His fingers itched to grab one small piece. Shaking his head, he looked for his quarry. The gentleman was standing in front of a merchant selling fleece. Reaching forward as something caught his attention.
A cart carrying cages of chickens moved in front of Herveus. His view blocked, he slipped into the bustling crowd. Small body jostled from side to side, he made slow progress. An opening appeared ahead as a small flock of sheep interrupted the flow of the marketplace. He wiggled between the creatures. He pushed on one trying to get it to budge.
A flash of green moving away made his palms sweat. Herveus got on his hands and knees. I will not lose him. Bile entered his mouth as his small body shuffled under the unmovable animal. The stench made him choke. Once free he jumped to his feet, eyes searching. There, the man was holding up a bolt of woad silk. The bag of coins jingled as he inspected the cloth.
Trying to blend in Herveus reached out, hand shaking. The man became distracted trying to haggle a lower price. Like he can't afford it. He tugged on the brown leather pouch. The cord held, so he pulled harder.
“Oi. What are you doing?” bellowed the man.
Eyes wide Herveus gave one last tug. The purse came free, spilling its contents all over the ground. Herveus knelt down trying to grasp a hold of the rolling coins. With a thud, a foot connected with his side.
“Filthy, rotten thief. How dare you try to rob me?” The man struck again with another blow.
Herveus's mouth tilted up as he clenched his fist tight. He curled in a ball, protecting as much of himself as he could manage. Several more blows connected with his prone form.
Schlik, he could hear the man gathering up the spilled treasure. Taking a painful breath, he didn't move until the man's footsteps faded away.
Opening his fist, he looked down at the gleaming flat silver piece of metal. I did it.
Limping, he left the marketplace. Eyes roaming, alert. Many dangers lay in wait in the city for the unsuspecting and defenseless. He moved through the cobbled streets. The houses became more dismal the further Herveus travelled. They had been dwelling in a desolate barn near the outskirts of Tranmere. Even the rats had abandoned the place, but it offered a little shelter for his sister.
The wooden building leaned to one side. Many boards were missing and nature had tried to take back the land it sat upon. Moving aside a loose plank of wood, Herveus crawled inside. “Emmeline, Emmeline look what I've found.” He held up his prize.
“You better haven't stolen that.” She bent forward coughing.
Herveus moved from foot to foot. His sister's pale face loosing even more of its colour. “Ya need a healer. We can afford one now and maybe some grub too.”
“Don't be silly boy, I'll be fine. Fetch me some water will ya.” His sister pointed to an old tin cup, while she wiped the spit from her mouth.
“But the water made ya more sick last time.” He bent to retrieve the item regardless. He knew the only thing worse than dirty water where no water at all. The stream wasn't far and he could still hear the din of his sisters croaking breaths. Tears fell against his cheek as he leaned over the grassy bank. Filling the vessel with the murky liquid. He took a large gulp himself. “Blah.” The taste never gets any better. Standing, he wiped the evidence of his weakness from his face. The cleaner patches of skin would give him away if anyone were to look close.
His sister was sleeping when he returned. She slept more than she used to. Her chest rising and falling with each wheezing inhale she took. Her dark hair fell in matted clumps over her skinny shoulders. Her tattered dress hanging on her slim frame. A lump formed in his throat. She looked even worse than the day before.
He was in need of rest himself, his body ached from the beating he had taken. He curled up behind Emmeline trying to share some of his warmth. His small arms scarce reached around her but he held on tight regardless.
He jolted awake by the racking noise of his sister. Rolling over he followed the sound. Her frame shook, drops of blood hitting the packed dirt. He crawled to her. “What is wrong?” She didn't reply as more crimson liquid seeped from her lips. He felt cold inside. Hands shaking as he rubbed circles on her back. She is all I have. She can't die, I won't allow it.
“I'm getting a healer, I won't be long.” He stood, looking back one last time at Emmeline and left.
The Night had fallen. A different kind of beast haunted the city at night. He rushed through the darkness. The occasional hand reached out to grab him. His panic made his legs move faster this night. Boisterous shouts and calls carried on the wind from the taverns he made sure to avoid. Dogs barked and men argued. His side hurt with each laboured breath. He had a destination, he ignored it all.
A candlelight in a small dirty window gave him optimism that the old woman had not retired to bed yet. Not that I care if she has. Small fists banged upon the old yellow wooden door. “Help please.”
A crack opened, one brown eye staring back at him. “Stop that racket boy. I'm old not deaf.”
Herveus bent over, gasping for air. “Please. My sister's in need of a healer.”
“You got any money, lad. My services ain't free ya know.” Her beady eye looked him up and down. Doubt clear to see.
He reached into his pocket and held up the hard earned coin. She squinted, before a wrinkled hand shot forward, grabbing it out of his hand. “That'll do nicely. Wait there.” She vanished back inside.
Panic seized him by the throat. His heart galloped. He lifted his hand to knock again when the door wrenched open. Dressed in black, a small bag clutched to her chest was his hope. Herveus's nostrils filled with the smell of herbs. He could only name but a few, lavender being the strongest odour. Sneezing, he wiped the snot from his nose.
“We don't have all night, show me the way boy.” She moved her arm, indicating for him to get moving. The old lady shuffled along. Eyes watched them from the shadows. You never bothered a healer though he thought, you never knew when one would be in need of their services. Maybe that is what I should become. A small nervous chuckled escape his lips.
“Find something funny boy?” Her hand reached out whacking him on the back of his head.
“Ow. No, I don't,” he replied while rubbing the sting away. The lights from the houses fade as they reached the boundary of the city. Cobbled streets gave way to dirt roads. The barns shadow stood alone, overshadowing the surrounding area. The menacing silence, causing Herveus's heart to leap in his chest. He bent down to remove a loose board.
“I ain't crawling in no mud, boy.” She huffed out a breath of air, lifting her nose in the air.
“Okay.” He stood, prying away several planks of rotten wood. “That a big enuff hole for ya?”
“Don't ya get cheeky with me,” she said, swatting him on the arm. “ I suppose it will have to do.” She bent, squeezing through the gap he had made.
He heard a gasp and rushed to follow her. Hand over her mouth, eyes wide stood the healer. Why isn't she helping. He took a small step forward. The moon shining through the chinks in the roof blanketed his sister's unmoving body. Eyes closed, she looked even smaller. The whistling chime of her breathing forever hushed.
“I'm sorry boy, we're too late.”
The chorus of the birds singing in the morning lets Herveus know time was still moving. Three days he lay there, staring at his mud-stained fingers. His sister rested in a shallow grave next to him. He didn't even care that the old lady had kept the silver coin he had taken a beating for. “For my trouble,” she had said.
His limbs ached and his tears had run dry. Even the animals that came to the stream to drink had stopped being bothered by his presence. Maybe if I stay here long enough, I will sink into the soil. A growl snapped him out of his dark thoughts. His head snapped to the side, eyes widening. A mangy dog approached Herveus. Teeth bared, hair stuck up along its back. The skin stretched over nothing but bones.
He reached forward, hand grasping a thick branch. The dog pounced, sharp fangs gnashing. Herveus rolled away. Undeterred the dog sprang again. Swinging the stick, he missed. “Arr,” he screamed. The mongrel latched onto his arm. He lifted the wood again, this time his aim was true. Blood dripped down his arm as he held the weapon in front of him. “I'm not easy prey,” Herveus stated. The hound yapped one last time, before retreating.
I can't stay here alone. He plucked a yellow flower and placed it on the mound of dirt. “Goodbye, Emmeline.”
He wandered the city. His small feet taking him to the one other place he had felt safe. The noises reached him first as he slipped in unnoticed. The chime of steel meeting steel. Then the smell of copper and sweat. The warrior's muscles flexed as they battled one another. They may only be training, but the royal guards meant every swing. That will be me one day, then nothing will hurt me again.
So lost in the movements within the circle, he didn't even notice anyone approach. The shuffling of feet gave away the intruder. Herveus looked to his left. A boy stood there. His blonde hair shone in the sun and the silver buttons upon his sanguine blood tunic gleamed. Herveus looked away. “What ya want?”
“You do know you are not meant to be in here.” The young man's lips quirked up.
“So what. You gonna tell on me?” Herveus sneered back.
“No. It will be nice to have some company for once. My Father makes me observe the guards train. I find it rather dull.”
“Huh.” Herveus gave the lad a closer look. “What's ya name?”
“Prince Dayton at your service.” Prince Dayton gave a mock bow. “What about you?”
“Herveus. I don't need no stinking prince as a friend.”
“How about some food? I often raid the royal kitchens, the cook loves me.” The prince looked up with eager eyes.
“Okay.” Herveus shrugged his shoulder's.
The little beggar boy followed the heir to the royal castle.