“Time is running out, August,” King Dorian Lockridge stated from his throne to his Royal Advisor. “I’m not getting any younger and I surely am not getting any healthier.”
“I understand, your highness,” August Elderon replied. “We are doing the best we can to find an heir but–”
“I don’t want just any heir,” Dorian sternly said.
August sighed, lowering his head. “Your, your highness… it may be time to–”
“My grandson is alive, August, I can feel it,” he said with conviction.
“I don’t doubt that you feel it… but it’s been eighteen years since the assassination of Princess Rosemary and Prince Carlton; if we can’t find Prince Tristan, the throne will have to go to the Duke Marcellus and from how he controls Arlington, which you already generously gave him, he won’t be a good king,” August firmly stated.
“Then find my grandson,” Dorian smiled. “You know every royal is branded with the crest of the household, surely the one with the brand is my grandson.”
August sighed— he knew the child was dead; he had been missing since the murder of his parents. Rosemary and Carlton were some of the kindest rulers of the country of Odsia, so surely their killer wouldn’t have spared the two-year-old. “As you wish, my king,” August bowed. “Eris!” he called and Eris Elderon, the Captain of the Guards entered the room. “Prepare your men— we’re going to search every crevice of the country to find Prince Tristan.”
“P-Prince Tristan?” Eris said in a confused manner.
“Yes,” August nodded, encouraging Eris to keep his opinion to himself.
“Y-yes your majesty,” Eris bowed before exiting the room with August. “Prince Tristan?” he gasped when they were out of earshot of the king.
“He insists he’s still alive,” August sighed.
“Even if he were, that would make him 20 years old, how are we supposed to find him?” Eris asked.
“He said to look for the branding of the crest,” August shrugged.
“Should we send out a declaration, asking for anyone with the branding to come forward?”
“No,” August shook his head. “If we do that, we’ll have to sift through tons of imposters… we have to go about this quietly— we have to look for any male that would be around his age.”
“We can wing it right? Surely the child died with his parents.”
“Eris,” August sternly reprimanded.
“You know it’s true,” Eris defended.
“Maybe it is, but be more sympathetic when you speak, please.”
“Fine,” Eris shrugged. “Where do you even intend on starting?” he asked.
August took a deep breath, shaking his head. “I don’t know where to start,” he said with defeat.
“Come on! You should be a lot faster than me, Nork!” a young man called to his Jack Russell Terrier as they ran through the streets.
“Come back here, you thief!” a man called back.
The young man’s eyes widened as the guards seemed to multiply against him— he picked up the pace and hid in an alleyway, then breathed a sigh of relief when the guards passed him up. “Nice,” he smiled before sitting down beside his dog. “We really hit the jackpot today huh, Nork?” he panted as he looked inside the sack of stolen food. “Meat, bread, cheese and even crackers!”
“Did you find him?!” one of the guards called out.
“Nothing this way,” the other replied.
“We’d better get back to the hut,” he whispered to Nork before picking him up.
“Still think I’m the runt of the litter?” the young man asked, holding out the sack.
His friends crowded around him to see what he found and gasped in amazement when they looked in the sack. “Whoa, Tristan, you really did a number today!” one of them exclaimed.
“I told you, it’s Tricks,” he complained.
“Sorry,” he rolled his eyes, “Tricks.”
“In all your years as leader of our gang, you’ve never been able to get this much food, Davy,” Tristan bragged.
“It must the charm in the green eyes,” one of the girls teased.
Davy frowned, putting his arm around her. “Don’t play coy with him, Jitters,” he grumbled.
“Aww, jealous?” she smiled, twirling her blonde hair around her finger.
“Please, of this guy?” Davy scoffed.
“Are we gonna stand around or are we gonna eat this stuff?” one of the others complained.
“Take it easy, Sandals,” Davy instructed. “Let’s go enjoy this while Tristan tells us of his expertise,” he said.
“Tricks,” Tristan complained.
They all sat around the floor under the cheap tarp that gave them protection, eating the foods, Tristan stole from the market.
“And honestly, I’ve had guards chase me but never this many,” he nervously chuckled. “I couldn’t have done it without Nork though— he’s the one that distracted the carriage driver.”
Davy stopped chewing. “Carriage driver?” he asked.
“Yeah, I got all the food from a horse drawn carriage; Nork distracted the driver by staying in front of the horses,” he laughed.
“You stole this food from the King?” he asked, his brown eyes widening.
“Maybe,” Tristan shrugged. “What does the old bag need it for anyway— we need it more than he does,” he complained.
“Tricks!” Davy exclaimed, standing up. “Now you’re gonna be wanted all over Odsia! You don’t steal from the King! You steal from the little markets and keep your head down, not make a whole scene!”
“So steal from the people struggling to make a living and let the King continue in peace? Listen, I see food, I take and I eat it; why should we disintegrate into bones while he’s living the high life! Maybe if this Kingdom were better run we wouldn’t be starving all the time! I hope the food was his,” Tristan defended.
Davy stared him down before he started to laugh. “You really do have guts, kid.”
Tristan smiled proudly as he sat back.
“If they come looking for you however… we can’t all be mixed up with treason,” Davy said.
“Treason?” Tristan chuckled, “look I only stole a little food, it’s not like I tried to kill him or anything.”
“Next time, stick to the shops,” Davy advised.
“Or maybe, Tricks is on to something,” Sandals said, taking a bite out of a turkey leg. “I’ve never eaten so much meat in my life, and like he said, the King has plenty of food— the people in Market are just trying to make a living. What if we targeted the King’s carriages and then shared our findings with the orphanages and the other people living on the streets?”
“You’re having delusions of grandeur,” Davy rolled his eyes. “We’re not heroes, we’re poor street rats who live day to day— we need to take care of ourselves first.”
Jitters sat up and sighed. “As much as I like that idea, I have to agree with Davy,” she said. “We don’t have much and what we get, we can’t go giving to someone else— that will just require us to steal more.”
“Exactly. Nobody wanted this life so why make a spectacle of ourselves? That’s asking to dangle at a ropes end. But you already know what happened in France, we’re not starting that.”
“Maybe a revolution is exactly what we need,” Tristan said.
“You steal some food for the King and start having wild thoughts,” Davy shook his head. “But go on, if you think it’s a good idea,” he shrugged. “I’ll join you if I see progress.”
Tristan’s shoulders dropped. “You’re right,” he sighed, “I’m getting a little too excited.”
“Don’t give up hope just yet,” Davy told him, “hey Skipper!”
“What?” Skipper grumbled back, sitting up from his sleeping bag.
“Do you want to start a revolution with Tricks?” he asked.
“Nothing, go back to sleep,” Tristan told him.
“I want to start a revolution though,” he slurred before lying back down and going to sleep.
Tristan laughed, shaking his head— he whistled for Nork to follow him and they walked out of the hut.
“Where are you going?” one of the others asked.
“I’m walking Nork,” Tristan replied.
“You’re on the lam,” Sandals laughed.
“Ah well,” he shrugged.
“They’re looking for Tristan?” the Queen gasped.
“Yes, my Queen,” Dorian smiled.
“Dorian,” she sighed.
“I know what you’re thinking, but, why haven’t we been able to find any remains of Tristan if he’s dead?” he asked.
“Dorian, I’d give anything to have them back, all of them— but we need to move on now,” she sadly told him. “As King, you have the right to choose any heir you desire, and if you don’t choose soon then… Marcellus will take the throne; he is unfit for it and you know that.”
Dorian sighed. “If I had just one other person that believed me that would help,” he told her. “If you don’t even believe me then…”
“I just don’t want us both to be heartbroken again— the loss of them ruined our lives and if we keep thinking Tristan is alive and it’s confirmed that he isn’t, that’s just going to rekindle all that pain again.”
“What if he is alive though, Elandra? We’ll continue to miss more than we’ve already missed,” he replied.
Elandra lowered her head, she would give anything for Tristan to be alive— she looked up at the portrait of Rosemary, Carlton and Tristan and her eyes filled with tears. “Please don’t get my hopes up,” her voice cracked.
“Trust me,” Dorian requested.
“Promise me this,” she started, “if we don’t find him within a considerable amount of time… we will move on, and find an heir?” she gently asked.
Dorian sighed, hesitating to answer. “I promise,” he finally nodded.
Elandra kissed his cheek and started out of the room, she nodded with a smile at August who came in. “Your Majesty,” he bowed.
“I take it you know of my husband’s quest?” she asked.
“Yes,” he awkwardly replied. “I understand where he is coming from,” he stated.
Elandra took a deep breath before glancing back at Dorian; even from far away, she could see the hopeful gleam in his eyes. “One more heartbreak could be what it takes to end him,” she sadly said.
August sadly looked over at Dorian; he was the closest thing he had to a father after his own father passed. “We’ll do our best to find Tristan,” he promised.
Elandra caressed his cheek. “Tristan is dead,” she whispered weakly before exiting the room.
August nervously walked towards Dorian but kept a positive smile on his face. “Your Highness,” he bowed.
“August,” Dorian replied. “Has your cousin found anything?” he asked. “I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. It’s only been a day.”
August chuckled. “Not yet, Sir; but I was thinking… at first we thought that maybe we should put out a declaration to see if anyone had the branding of the royal crest but we knew that we’d have to deal with imposters, so we were thinking maybe a declaration for all the men who are 20 years of age; we don’t have to say why but I think it might make it easier… it’s a start.”
“And it’s brilliant,” Dorian nodded.
Tristan put his hood over his head and walked along the south side market with Nork— he looked at all the fruits and vegetables, they weren’t like the ones from the West side where he and his friends resided, it seemed like they had better fruits in this market. He bit his lip, looking down at fresh, crisp apple and prepared to grab it. He looked around to make sure the owner of the stand wasn’t nearby then reached his hand out to pick up the fruit.
“Don’t you belong on the west side?” a voice interjected.
Tristan gasped, turning around. “Jinx,” he nervously said. “I erm… I got all turned around and everything— Nork and I were just heading back,” he lied, picking the dog up.
“Mm-hmm,” Jinx replied, folding his arms. “Lemme ask you something, kid,” he started, placing an arm around him and causing Nork to start growling. “Easy does it, doggie,” Jinx chuckled. “There’s been hearsay that you nabbed food from the King’s carriage.”
“Th-there’s a lot of hearsay… always,” he stammered.
“If you do that again for us, we might consider having you come on over to the south side, permanently,” he coaxed.
“I don’t wanna get caught,” Tristan replied. “I can’t just keep doing stuff like that.”
“Well, obviously you’re quite skilled, eh?” Jinx replied. “So… me and the others, like those the best,” he said, pointing to the peaches on the stand.
“And?” Tristan asked. “Go get them; I have to go, I don’t want my friends waiting up for me.”
Jinx yanked Nork out of his hands. “Do it if you want the dog back,” he demanded.
“Hey!” Tristan snapped. “Give him back!”
“After you get the peaches,” Jinx replied.
“Give me my dog before I scalp you,” he growled.
“Ah, ah, you know the drill, kid,” Jinx smiled as two of his friends came and held Tristan back. “You were on our turf, you owe us… clear? Or the dog gets it,” he warned.
Tristan snatched his arms away before walking towards the stand. “There’s marbles over here,” he said.
Jinx’ face scrunched in confusion. “What?”
“I said… MARBLES!” he exclaimed.
Nork immediately sank his teeth into Jinx hand repeatedly before he let him go— he ran to Tristan who scooped him up and ran off. “You’re making a big mistake, Tristan!” Jinx warned, running after him with the other two.
“Okay these guys might be a little harder to shake off,” Tristan panted— he fell to the ground after bumping into the stiff armor of one of the guards. Being all too familiar with the armor, he kept his head down. “H-help me; th-those thieves are after me!” he begged before jumping up.
“Hold on, just a minute,” Eris said, taking his arm. “One of my men told me to be on the lookout for a boy with a dog,” he sternly said.
“Yeah, I took the dog from him because he was being violent to it, please don’t let them catch us!” Tristan continued.
Eris looked over and saw the three from the south side rushing their way. “Go on,” he told Tristan, letting him go and stopping the other three.
Tristan chuckled as he and Nork made their way back to the west side, “Wit will always outdo brute strength, eh Nork? Or maybe just a dog with hatred for marbles.”
When they arrived at the hut, they scurried inside. Tristan took time to catch his breath before looking around at everyone who was staring at him. “What happened to you?” Skipper asked, his big blue eyes full of confusion.
“You didn’t steal from the king again did you?” Skipper’s twin brother Cooper asked.
“N-no,” Tristan panted. “J-jinx, Mitzy and D-Dez.”
“What were you doing on the Southside?!” Davy snapped.
“The food is so much better than it is over here,” Tristan replied, still struggling to breath.
“Do you have a death wish lately?” Sandals inquired. “You know what they’re like over there.”
“I don’t know, you get one taste of fine dining and so you keep wanting it,” Tristan chuckled.
“You didn’t bring them back here did you?” Davy asked.
“No,” he shook his head. “I asked one of the guards to keep those thieves away from me and this innocent dog,” he playfully said.
“When did you turn into such a con artist?” Jitters asked, folding her arms.
“Yeah, you were always the goodie two shoes of the bunch,” Cooper stated.
“Wasn’t that Sandals?” Tristan replied.
Everyone tilted their heads left and right before nodding in agreement— they all turned to sandals who was sewing the tarp together. “What?” he asked.
“Anyway,” Davy started. “If you start making the south side come after us, we’re gonna have to move and do you have any idea how hard that’ll be? It’s bad enough you have the King’s men infuriated.”
“Well, now they kind of think Jinx is me so… I think we’ll be okay,” he sheepishly said before handing Davy an apple. “Courtesy of the south side.”
Davy gave in, half smiling and taking the fruit.
They all started to settle down before hearing the blast of the King’s trumpets, signaling a declaration. “The King’s trumpet,” Jitters gasped.
“They’re coming for you,” Skipper said to Tristan.
“I’m sure they don’t care that much about some stolen food,” Tristan said, more trying to convince himself that it wasn’t about him.
They all peeked outside the hut and could see hundreds of people standing around, waiting for the announcement. The King’s messenger took her place on a stand before the people and cleared her throat. “This is to announce that His Majesty King Dorian and Her Royal Highness Queen Elandra are in the process of finding a missing person, males aged 20, are requested to come to the castle before the end of the week— you are encouraged not to be intimated, as your King and Queen mean no harm to anyone, whether or not you are the one they seek,” she broadcasted. “Thank you.”
“Didn’t you just turn 20?” Sandals asked Tristan.
“And?” Tristan asked.
“Aren’t you gonna go?”
“I’m no missing person, I’m just a street rat and for what reason would they ever want some homeless orphan to set foot into their precious castle,” he complained, going back into the hut.
“How do you know you’re not a missing person,” Davy asked. “Most of us might just be.”
“Maybe I am, but I’m not going there; it could be a trap and they’d hang me right on sight… besides, I’m not the only one who’s 20 am I?” he asked, looking around.
“Sandals isn’t 20 yet, he’s only 18, the twins are 22; Jitters is 23 and even if she were 20, she sure ain’t male.”
“You guys don’t actually think I should go, do you?”
“Nah, he’ll definitely get noosed,” Skipper said.
“Really? Get noosed?” Cooper complained, so Skipper hit him with a pillow, which of course caused him to hit back, starting them up into their own little fight.
The others sighed as they watched them scuffle— it wasn’t anything new, they were brothers after all. “No, Tricks, we wouldn’t want you to go… the castle is dangerous for people like us,” Davy stated.
Tristan nodded then went to sit quietly in the corner; he fiddled with the chain around his neck and looked around the hut before laying back.
“What’s wrong?” Sandals asked.
“You don’t think they’ll start using force do you?” he asked.
“Nah, I’m sure whatever it is, the King knows what he’s looking for… he just doesn’t know how to find’em,” he shrugged. He looked at the chain. “Why do you keep that if you hate being called Tristan?” he asked.
Tristan sat up and then took off the chain bearing his name and shrugged. “It’s all I have left of my parents… whoever they were,” he softly responded, showing him the engraving on the back. “Mrs. LaRoche said, it says, ‘to our precious Tristan… With Love, Mum and Pa’,” he explained.
“Wow,” Sandals gasped. “I wish I had something like that from my parents… then again my parents didn’t want me so I don’t see why I’d want something to remember them by.”
“Sorry,” Tristan said, putting the chain back on, “I wasn’t trying remind you of that.”
“Nah, it’s not you,” he chuckled. “Go ahead and get some rest… the King isn’t coming to get you.”
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