There was dancing and joyous mirth when she was born to the Traveling People. Flowers were placed around the crib, and gifts of all sorts were laid around her. She was taken before The Speaker, who read her future in the lines of her tiny palm. There were days of raucous celebration after.
Her youngest years seemed to breeze by in a never-ending stream of new places, new faces, endless travel, and amusement. In the wide travels she shared with her folk, she learned much of the world and the people in it. She grew to become a spirited, independent, graceful, care-free young woman.
When her thirteenth birthday came, she wandered from the Traveling Peoples’ camp and into Whitesands. She was shocked by the way the people in The Downs lived. But life had taught her that around the next bend, there was always something new.
His birth was not heralded as a miracle by overjoyed parents. He was not blessed by any priest, nor was he welcomed into the world with a warm blanket and loving arms. He was born into the squalor and mud of The Downs, beneath the shadows of Whitesands’ towering walls.
He never knew his real parents—his father, an orc, neither knew nor cared of his birth and his mother, already shattered by the mishandling she’d received from the father, was horrified by her child. It was only by the grace of his discovery by a Downs-woman named Amra that he survived his abandonment at infancy at all. Although she had three children of her own, by an equal number of fathers, Amra could not bear to watch a babe perish. Regardless of his more obvious differences from her own sons, Amra had cared for him as though he was her own.
But by the time he was fourteen, the boy was sick of The Downs. He was forced to watch Amra debase herself daily to provide for her children. He grew weary of the constant vigil against attacks, derision, and attempts to enlist him into the criminal organizations that ran The Downs. He knew there had to be something more.
“You’re bleeding,” she said softly, stretching her hand to daub at his split lip with one corner of a handkerchief.
“Not as much as you are, hold still,” growled the boy seated beside her sternly as he pressed a cloth against her ribs where the guttersnipe’s sharp knife had scored her flesh.
“I would suppose it’s proper to introduce ourselves, since you did just save my life,” she breathed, watching his focused gaze upon her side, “I’m Kismoral.”
“Jarek,” he grunted in his deep, resonant voice, still focused upon her injury.
He glanced up at her while reaching for the needle and thread he’d been soaking in cheap wine. His skin colored a bit darker than its normal dusky gray when his eyes caught hers, then looked away.
“They weren’t going to kill you. They were just trying to show you who they thought was boss is all.”
She laughed merrily at that, “And that thrashing they got probably showed them who was boss.”
She watched the thick muscles in the boy’s arms flex beneath his dusky skin as he moved around her, then bit her lip as the needle pierced her skin.
“Got to get this stitching just right, so that won’t be an ugly scar on a pretty girl,” she heard him mutter.
It was her turn to color just a bit. Despite the needle, and the rough appearance of his hands, he was very gentle. She waited patiently for him to finish, sucking in her breath and wincing with each turn of the needle.
“You know,” Jarek said as he pulled her shirt down to cover her slender side and the stitches he’d placed there, “If you don’t want any trouble, you should probably get out of here before the Hard-heads come.”
“Hard-heads? You’re a funny boy,” she said with a half-smile and a raised eyebrow.
“The city watch. Someone might have called them, with all of that ruckus in the square. They’ll pin you down for sure, being one of the Traveling People. Everybody knows they’re shifty and all.”
He eyed her warily.
“How do you know—I’m not shifty!” she protested.
He grinned, showing canines that were larger than usual.
“Sure, just like I’m not a big dumb brute, right?”
She looked at him quizzically.
“When did I say that?”
“You didn’t. But most people don’t have to, I can see it in their eyes.”
“Well then you’re a lunkhead,” she pronounced.
“Oh, and you don’t hear that all the time about being shifty?”
“Not hardly,” she huffed, “The Traveling People bring joy and merriment wherever they go.”
“And empty a few pockets along their way, right?” His grin broadened.
“And what do you know about the Traveling People anyway?” she said.
“Nothing at all, you’re right. I mostly stick to myself,” he replied with a shrug.
“Kismoral!” came the call from across the ragged stalls that served as the fishers’ market; it was her father.
“Kismoral, what are you doing here? We’ve been worried sick about you! Where have you been?” the older man said as he walked over and tugged on her arm, eyeing the boy Jarek.
“I was just coming to get some fish from the market, Father. Then these boys-“
“Come along, we need to get back to the camp now, girl!” her father said, pulling her away.
Jarek watched the two edge away from the stalls and cross the square. Kismoral mouthed the words “Thank you!” as her father marched her away. Just as they were nearly out of sight, a heavy hand fell on Jarek’s shoulder.
“I saw what you did there, boy. That was very valiant, taking on four at once to save a little girl from Gods knows what sort of treatment,” said a gruff voice.
Jarek looked up, to see a tall man standing over him. The man wore brightly lacquered scale mail and had a shield strapped across his back. In the crook of his left arm was—a Hard-head helmet.
Jarek knew he’d best come along with the guard and not put up any fight, as he’d run into the man’s like many times before. He raised his hands.
“I did what needed to be done. She’s not but a slip of a lass, didn’t deserve all that, and surely those boys didn’t need to be eating anything but mush for a few weeks, anyway,” Jarek said with a slightly defiant tone.
The guardsman pushed on Jarek’s shoulder, edging his raised arm down, and smiled.
“I meant what I said, boy. Few are those who care what happens to others around these parts, so wrapped up in their own struggles they are. And by looking at you, I can see you’ve had a struggle or two. If you ever have a thought of getting out of this place, we ‘Hard-heads’ are always looking for a good man.”
Jarek eyed the man’s sword.
“You get food, a place to sleep that doesn’t leak on you all night most times, and something these lads you just busted up won’t ever get. The knowledge that you’re keeping the peace, doing what’s right, and watching after the people around you and not shivving them in the back and always watching for someone else’s shiv. My name’s Hartlin. Look me up, when you get your backbone up a bit more and decide you want those things.”
The man turned and walked away, leaving Jarek thinking about a girl, and a sword.
The boy and the girl didn’t meet again until years later.