[Shorts] Ta’Lern

He could only hear the sounds of his breath as he ran. The pathways were slippery, but he kept his balance, knowing the streets of the city by heart. Closing his eyes, he let his senses guide him, knowing that this was the quietest part of the city. A corner here, a jump there, he counted the steps even as he ran. Approaching a particularly sharp turn, he raised his hand and swung himself, over the amused sigh of a housewife used to his antics. Of course, the fact that she had been able to seen up his loincloth did not bother him in the slightest; he knew she did not get enough of it.

He could not stop to say hello to her as he usually did though. By the time he heard her faint scream, he knew they were closing on him. He had to run, to warn his brother, to get them all out of here. With his eyes closed, he burst out into the quiet and sun-lit plaza, the light burning him even though his eyes were closed. Listening with his ears, he turned in a direction and ran towards the crowd; he had to take the risk of losing a few seconds if he could shake them in the crowd. As he melted into the crowd, he opened his eyes but kept his senses sharp; the market was still full at mid-day. Somewhere, a woman called out her wares; she was selling fresh flowers, the kind that needed lots of water. He turned towards her and bought a small bouquet; his sister would appreciate it, despite the danger.

His steps were quick and purposeful through the market. With the air of a self-important suitor, he walked into the exotic section of the market, where they would sell all kinds of magical potions. This was a true maze, but he knew his way. Leaving his mind blank but alert, he let his feet guide him. Soon he stood in front of a curtained doorway with a simple cartouche and a rose within in. Lifting the curtain, he walked in. The door solidified behind him, recognising his presence. Inside, he followed the voices to a smaller room, where a young man sat in front of a canvas while his younger brother posed. Their sister was nowhere to be seen, but knowing her, she would most likely be with a customers.

“You’re late,” the old man who was making his brother pose and the younger man paint greeted him. “Your sister’s with that nobleman from the Upper City. The one with the good manners and kohl-stained hands,” he had noted the flowers.

“Let’s go, Anra,” he took his brother by the arm and led him out of his room.

His brother did not protest, merely taking the flowers from him as they went out the back door, stopping to pick up the satchels they had kept just for this purpose. The old man did not stop them; he was bedridden. Neither did the artist; he had not wanted this commission in the first place, but the money was good and not everyone realised the worth of a canvas painting, especially if they did not deal with sea-going merchants. Instead, as he began to pack up his items, the old man forced him instead to stay, painting the portraits instead from memory.

The brothers made their way out of market and on to the Upper City. Thanks to their sister, the Guards knew them, and they were let in with no questions. Anra meekly followed his brother to a small house hidden between two large mansions. The noble who lived here preferred a simple life compared to his neighbours, though his position meant that he could afford to live just as lavishly. He kept his pursuits to just one; women. Their sister was popular with many other nobles, but this was the one that held her attention the most.

“Please tell Annwn we’re here to pick her up,” the servant let them in and left them waiting in the small waiting room. He could not wait to be gone from this place; he hoped the Hunters had not found them yet.

As they waited, Anra sat down and put his head on his arms, feeling worn. From experience, he knew that his sister could take quite a while, and it was not beyond her to make them wait. He did not tell his brother he was napping, merely laid down and closed his eyes to sleep. When his brother saw him asleep, it was too late.

A strong female arm hugged his waist, a woman’s soft cheek against his bare back. He could not move. A golden-haired girl stood over the sleeping Anra, not much older than his brother, who was barely out of childhood himself. When the girl behind him spoke, he knew who she was immediately. They were not to meet in this time though. Not yet.

“Be still, beloved. It is not yet time. She will not harm him,” the sweet voice conjured up memories of a tropical jungle, far removed from this dusty desert town. Yet that was a life ago, a long time before his siblings.

“An… ra,” he could not speak.

The blond girl knelt beside Anra and leant forward. He could not see what she was doing, but he knew. A soft kiss, and that was all it took.

They were Marked.