If you read this post and were waiting on pins and needles for more stories, I apologize. Only a few of you saw that post. For everyone else, it may be news to you that I’ve been writing a book. Last week, I finished the first draft and The Bahawre Legend is off to editing. I expect the book to be available in February 2017. That’s just a few months away!
Along with that exciting news, I present you with another short story. This is Boman’s back story. Since he’s the main character of the book, I figured it might be nice to introduce him to everyone. So here is a story from his younger years. Enjoy.
Poor could not begin to describe Boman’s appearance. Rags and fragments of material had been fashioned into makeshift garments which hung oddly from his thin frame. His long, dark-brown hair stubbornly stuck out in places even though it was tied at the back with a worn strip of cloth. The fear on his face, his quick stride and frequent backward glances told of a situation equally as poor as his appearance.
Starving, alone and on the run, he had spent the last hour convincing himself that he need only reach the city. They would never find him there, not where he could hide in such a vast crowd. Less than a year from the legal age of sixteen, it wouldn’t have been long until he was cast out of the orphanage anyway. He had merely accelerated the process. They would lose the money the king paid them for each child in their care. He felt a twinge of guilt, but it was quickly replaced with anger as he remembered his last unwarranted beating and the despicable living conditions.
He was on his own now. All he had to do was make it to Zille. He certainly looked of age, at least in his own opinion, and with no paperwork to prove otherwise, surely he could find a job. If he could avoid the catchers for long enough, he would be free.
Even before he reached the gate, Boman heard the melange of noises that composed the city market. Merchants called out their wares, carts creaked and clattered down the streets and soldiers called out warnings to those about to cause trouble. He had never heard such sounds from the small farm villages in which he had lived.
And the smells. Oh what lovely smells bombarded his hungry nose. Smoked meats, fresh fish and various things being grilled all announced their presence from the other side of the wall. As he walked through the gate, he could see what his nose excited about. A variety and quantity of food he had never experienced was spread out on tables and hanging from racks in almost every direction. Hunger pains tormented him and his exhaustion only made it worse.
His heart sank when he started listening to the prices the merchants called out. He only had enough money for two, maybe three meals. And he had no idea where he would sleep.
“Keep moving,” came a stern warning from a soldier. Boman realized he had stopped to stare at the smoked fish. He probably looked like a potential thief the way he was dressed. Casting his gaze down, he suppressed his hunger as best he could and started toward the northern edge of the market.
Another boy in the orphanage had escaped a year ago and lived in Zille before he was caught. After the catchers and returned him to the orphanage, he told Boman how much better the prices were in the northern end of the market. Given that, Boman expected it to be a seedier spot, so he tucked his coin pouch into the front part of his belt and folded the end of his shirt over it.
His information did not disappoint. The farther north he walked, the lower the quality of the merchandise, including the food. Aromas turned to smells as meat and produce became older and less palatable.
After several disappointing merchants selling much too odorous food, Boman came across an old woman selling potatoes. These smelled far less odious than anything else nearby, so he stopped to take a closer look.
Seeing the opportunity for a sale, the woman smiled, revealing she still had at least two teeth. “These were grown just over the hill there,” she said, holding out a potato with one hand and pointing off to the eastern horizon with the other. “No better potatoes in Zille, I tell you.”
Boman smiled and accepted the potato to examine it. To his surprise, it was firm and free of mold. He glanced at the others sitting on the table and they all seemed of similar quality. “How much?”
“Only eight tins for five.”
It was the best deal he had found yet. Not that he relished the idea of potatoes as his only form of sustenance, but five of them would certainly last him a few days. “That seems fair to me. I’ll take five.”
“A fine choice, young man. Fine choice.” She selected the nearest five potatoes and stood waiting while he plucked eight tins from his pouch.
After counting twice to make sure, Boman handed the coins to the old woman and accepted the potatoes from her in an awkward balancing act. It took him a few tries to arrange them securely in his remaining pockets. When he was finally satisfied, he noticed she was still regarding him intently.
“New in town, are you?”
Boman nodded. “Just arrived today.”
“Got a place to stay?”
“Uh … no. Haven’t started looking yet.”
“No job, then, eh?”
“Brother’s looking for a young man to help him with the pigs.”
Boman nodded and smiled, but he was not ready to give up on a better job just yet. “Thank you, ma’am. But there are a few other things I’d like to look into first.”
She chuckled. “Oh, I understand. Working with pigs is dirty business.” She gestured at his attire. “But dressed as you are, not many people in town will want to hire you. Give it a go. Come and see me when it doesn’t turn out. Name’s Gweny.”
Boman bowed awkwardly. “Thank you, Gweny. I’m Boman. If it’s as you say, I’ll come back before the end of the day.”
“Good luck, then. See you this evening.”
Desperately hoping he would not have to come back, he nodded and started back the way he had come. He had seen a few vendors that looked overworked. Certainly they could use some help. Pulling one of the potatoes from his pocket, he began cleaning it on his dirty clothes as he picked up his pace.
After consuming the potato raw, he came around the corner to the large square just inside the east gate. One of the merchants, a middle-aged man with graying brown hair, looked just as busy and harried as he had been earlier.
Boman mustered his courage and approached the man. “Excuse me, sir. Perhaps you could use an assistant? I will work cheap.”
“Don’t bother me, boy. I’m busy. Besides that, I’m not hiring.”
“But if you’ll just give me a chance.”
“No. Go away or I’ll call a soldier.”
The man didn’t even look his way again, so Boman walked a little farther down the row. Maybe that was one of the cranky merchants. Surely, he could find someone willing to hire him. He spent the next several hours talking to the other merchants with identical results.
He tried a wool merchant, a smoked meat merchant, a silver smith and quite a few other shops. Nobody was hiring unknown, poorly dressed young men. Those who would talk to him at all had the same questions. Why was he dressed like that? Where was his family? Why hadn’t someone arranged a job for him when he was in school? Why did he smell like that? Had he just been to the stables?
“Nobody will give me a chance,” he sulked. He had spent the better part of the afternoon looking for any kind of work other than pigs. Not one of them had asked for his qualifications. No family, no references, no chance. He looked around one more time, then sighed. Dawdling would bring yet another soldier’s rebuke, so he started to the north once more. Determination replaced depression and fatigue. “Somebody will give me a chance. I just don’t like it,” he said quietly to himself. “Time to be a man. It’s this or starvation or the orphanage.”
Having made up his mind, Boman’s return trip to find Gweny took a very short time. He arrived an hour before the market closed.
“So you’ve returned.” Gweny seemed to know his tale.
“Ready to work?”
“Alright, then. See those barrels beside the cart? Load ‘em up. I’ll be lucky to sell what’s left on the table before the day’s up. Do that and help me load up the rest at close and I’ll give you five more potatoes.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
“Then if you pull the cart home for me, I’ll talk to my brother for you and arrange that job. Sound fair?”
Boman was already lifting one of the knee-high barrels. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
“It’s starting to sound like that’s the only phrase you know.”
“I’m just grateful,” he smiled and bent to pick up another barrel.
In his peripheral vision, he could see Gweny laugh, though he couldn’t hear it through the strain of lifting the barrel. He set it in the cart, then looked down. Three more barrels, then load the rest of the potatoes at closing time and pull the cart. Then pigs. What had he gotten himself into?
As he loaded the remaining barrels, the thought started to sound upside down or backwards to him. No, not into. What had he gotten himself out of? Yes, that was a better thought. Even pigs were better than the orphanage. He had a job and wouldn’t starve. He was his own man now and although his choices were limited, at least he made his own choice.
Pigs. At least it was a place to start.