All dates used in any of the Gifts stories will be in Camron dating scheme where AF means After Founding.
Hider was what he was
called and hiding is what he did. He was a slight ten year old with
tangled red hair and large green eyes. Unlike many of the other naked
urchins on the streets of Tenve, capital of Scart, a small but free
Princedom several hundred miles south of Camron's border, he was clean,
well as clean as he could be, without the good scrubbing that soap would
While Hider would have
loved to take a bath with plenty of hot water and lots of soap, it was
impossible. Even if he would have been allowed into a bathhouse, he
would have had to pay at least a copper. To use the few precious coppers
he stole for that purpose would make him conspicuous and would show
irresponsibility to what had become his CHILDREN.
That's how he thought
of them; twenty young children between the ages of four and twelve.
All he stole and all they could scrounge went to feed their hungry mouths.
One day he had been one of them and the next he was responsible for
Hider had been eight
years old at the time, and he had been with the band for about three
years. Four older children, three twelve-year-old boys and an eleven-year-old
girl had loosely organized the band. They were all bullies. They hadn't
had a generous bone in their bodies. They had controlled the band with
force, taking the best that the younger children could find, leaving
them with what was left over. They never gave anything in return, neither
their affection nor their protection.
Luckily, two of the
children had been going out, and they rushed back into the inner room
yelling, "The Hunters are coming!!!"
The older kids panicked,
and rushed to one of the makeshift entrances of the ruined hut. The
last one through pushed over the pile of stones and blocked the entrance
The younger children
were ready to panic as well, and if they had done so, there was no way
of knowing how many would have died under the Hunters' swords. Despite
their age, there would have been no mercy. Homeless slum children were
the lowest of the low. No one cared whether they lived or died, even
slaves had far more importance than they did.
Hider was afraid as
well, but it was a controlled fear. He would use it to help him and
the others do get away; not to help him die. He had been having a sand
bath that they could use to keep themselves clean. Not that many of
them attempted to do so, Hider was the only one who used it on a regular
Hider scooped up the
broken pot, which held the water he had been using with the sand. He
emptied it out on his friends. Despite their fear, astonishment made
them look at Hider. There was fear in his voice as well, but, like his
fear, his voice was controlled and the other children recognized it.
Hider barked out, "Follow
me!!!!" and he led the way to what was now the only exit. He stopped
at the small hole barely big enough for the oldest of the children.
He began pushing the children through the opening. Somehow, he was the
leader, and unlike the older bullies, who would've gone first, Hider
would go last.
One of the Hunters
was just coming through the inner door bare sword in hand, as the last
of the children was ducking through the hole. With relief, Hider followed
him, knowing that they were probably safe now. Fortunately, the Hunters
were too lazy to make any serious efforts to find the children.
Hider didn't dare steal
large amounts, not even silvers, such a large amount as even one silver,
in the hands of an street urchin such as himself, would have attracted
the attention of the City Guard and the much more dangerous Hunters.
That would allow them to concentrate on a fairly small area, and he
would be too vulnerable a target if that occurred.
As a Magic User who
would never have High Magic, let alone be a Mage, his major magical
gift of Concealment was probably unmatched by anyone except perhaps
for a Great Mage. It had developed early and very quickly matured in
his dangerous environment. He also had a minor Empathic ability.
A pretty child, he
had no objection to offering himself as a prostitute, but something
about him frightened off those who enjoyed young bodies. Only on a few
occasions had he been able to sell his body. It baffled Hider, not knowing
that many of the men who lusted after young boys were instinctively
wary of Hider, sensing that there was something unusual about him.
Six of his little band
could and did attract those who desired youngsters on a regular basis,
but Hider only allowed them to go with those his Empathic ability showed
were truly after sex and not sadistic pleasures. When he was not with
them, they were only supposed to go with ones they had been with in
the past, never chancing a stranger.
Those youngsters rarely earned even a copper, but they generally ate well and in the mornings were sometimes given food that they could share with their friends.
Hider was in Concealment
in one of the city squares, carrying a small bag, standing, leaning
bare back and bottom against the wall of a building. It was one of the
smaller markets in the city, which was why he had chosen it. It meant
that there were fewer people to bump into to inadvertently reveal his
presence, and there were seldom any Hunters here.
Hider was about to
dart forward to snatch some food to fill the bag when he went rigid,
as the small procession that a high noble caused entered the square.
First two guards and then four men carrying a plump noble in a sedan
chair. Trotting beside the sedan chair was a small nude, dark haired
boy with an elaborate slave collar, then two additional guards. Hider
saw that a dark-haired young woman, in her early to mid-twenties, was
paying particular attention to the noble party.
Hider cursed to himself
as he realized that the guards following the sedan chair were aware
of her attention. They were talking to each other about it, trying to
decide whether to do anything about her blatant interest.
He cursed himself for
being a stupid fool, as he darted forward, threading through the market
stalls, avoiding people with practiced ease. Reaching her, Hider kicked
her in the side of the knee. Since Hider was barefoot it wasn't that
hard, but it got her attention. He hissed, “Stop paying so much attention
to Considus, you're attracting too much attention to yourself.”
She didn't turn around
immediately, kept looking at the noble and his guards, and then she
snapped her fingers and nodded her head decisively. Turning around,
she acted as if her looking at them had simply been an accident while
thinking about something.
It won Tana top marks, the guards who had been watching her were taken in completely, and they now ignored her. She heard the voice, a very young voice, as Hider said reprovingly. “You've spoiled my raid. You're going to have to make up for it. That is if you want to know where Considus lives, without making yourself even more conspicuous. You should be able to get a half dozen loaves of bread and a skin of goat's milk without attracting any attention. When you leave take the street that Considus came out of and about a hundred yards along there'll be a narrow alley on your right. I'll wait for you there."
Tana took her time,
cursing herself for the mistake she had made; it could have ruined her
plans, aside from the fact that it might have gotten her killed. She
did some casual shopping before purchasing the food that Hider had told
her to get, as well she added a couple of bottles of wine, as if she
had a small dinner planned.
It was getting toward
late afternoon, when she left the square. Tana strolled casually as
if she had all the time in the world. She turned in at the indicated
alley, wondering whether it was an ambush. It was dark in the alley,
but she had excellent night vision, and her eyes adjusted quickly. Twenty
feet from the opening, a small naked boy who had been sitting, back
against the wall, jumped to his feet.
“That was very stupid,”
Hider said reprovingly as he brushed a stray lock of hair off his forehead.
Despite the fact that she agreed with him, Tana was inclined to giggle.
That young treble voice saying exactly what her instructors would have
The boy continued,
“Nobles use off duty City Guards when they travel in the city. The
Prince allows them to use a small number of guards at their homes. He
has forbidden them to use their own guards when they travel inside the
city. You'll have to make sure you stay away from those two in the future.
They're trained to remember people who come to their attention.”
“I know,” Tana
said, contritely. “I was just so surprised. The slaveboy was my nephew
Kinon, and I didn't expect to just come upon him like that.”
“All right, as long as you don't get so careless again,” Hider said grudgingly. “Here take my hand, it's going to be dark soon and since I know where your nephew is, I don't think you want to lose me. Oh,” he giggled, “try not to think of what you're stepping in. The only good thing about these alleys is that they're too narrow for carts or wagons, so there shouldn't be any horse or mule dung.” A pause, another giggle, “At least probably not.”
Tana took his hand
in hers. It was the first time she had ever held a child's hand, and
she was surprised by how small it was. Normally she had a good sense
of direction, but she was lost within minutes, not even knowing which
direction was north or south.
Finally, after about
a fifteen minutes walk, in which she thanked the Gods that she hadn't
stepped in anything soft, Hider stopped, and gave a perfect imitation
of a Nightwitch bird, giving three calls.
She heard the bird’s
call, in the same manner, from two different directions. “Coast is
clear,” said Hider. He led her around back and slipped through a door,
into a dimly lit, room. Looking up she could she the sky through a big
chunk of a missing roof.
When she looked down,
she could see she a total of fifteen children surrounding her. There
were eight girls and seven boys, and like Hider, they were all naked.
With the two lookouts that made a total of seventeen children.
They were looking at
her somewhat warily not used to having an adult in their home, as humble
as it might be. She gave a friendly nod, and they relaxed a bit. Hider
looked around at them anxiously, counting them. When he saw that three
were missing, he asked anxiously, “Where are the others?” They turned
their attention back to Hider.
One of them, a boy
and probably the oldest of the children, assured him. “None of them
are with strangers. Unfortunately, none of them will pay cash money
either, but they're usually pretty generous with food.”
One of the other boys
gave an audible sigh, “It's too bad that Considus bought that slaveboy
from Camron. He was a nice man, and he always paid well and gave plenty
of food to share.”
One of the girls said
with a little bit of resentment, “But he only liked boys, girls never
had a chance with him!”
Hider said with a grin
on his face, “I know. He even took me to his bed a couple of times.
I didn't seem to frighten him like I do the others. I was there at the
Slave Market when they sold the slaveboy. Considus was there as usual,
just to watch the boys parading by, and it wasn't until Marrko started
bidding that he did as well. He was determined that the boy wouldn't
fall into Marrko's hands. I saw him shudder when Marrko went to four
thousand golds, but he went to forty-one hundred and Marrko finally
Hider frowned before
saying, “You've all heard the rumors about Marrko, and know about
the boys who've disappeared. He hates nobles with a passion. If he'd
purchased the Camron noble boy, the boy would have been lucky or perhaps
unlucky, to live a week.”
Hider turned to the
woman with his hand out, and she gave him the bag. Kneeling down, he
removed the contents. Once everything was out of the bag, he divided
the loaves into equal portions. With himself there were eighteen children,
he divided each of the six loaves in thirds and handed them round. After
pouring goat's milk for the youngest of the children into makeshift
mugs, he let the others get their own, and he took his after they were
all finished. He pointed to two of the children, one boy and one girl
saying, “Once you've finished you two replace the lookouts so they
have a chance to eat as well.” and they simply nodded in obedience.
All the food disappeared as if inhaled; within five minutes, it was all gone except for the two portions left over for the lookouts. Hider stood up, and held up the wine bottles. He told them in a firm voice, “Use plenty of water with this wine. If any of you get drunk and I find out, I'll give you a whipping you'll never forget, and it'll be even worse if any of you get the little ones drunk.”
While it was dark,
there was a bright moon in the sky. Hider took Tana to a small, mostly
ruined house about a quarter of a mile away that he used for his quarters.
It only had part of the walls still standing. The boy spread a sack
on the ground and offered her a seat. Tana asked, curious, “You don't
stay with them?”
In the bright moonlight,
she saw him shake his head. “No, it would be too dangerous for them.
If the Hunters found me with a group of children, they would just as
likely kill them, as to leave them alive.”
“What are Hunters?
I've heard them mentioned, but nobody will tell me anything about them.”
Tana asked with curiosity.
Hider nodded, saying,
“Sensibly most people are afraid of Hunters. The Prince's grandfather
had no magical abilities, and he resented those that it. He began to
encourage those Magic Users that were here to leave, though he and his
descendants have always tolerated Healers, and Hunters. Hunters are
active Empaths. They know when someone is afraid of them. When they
find a person with an out of the ordinary type of fear, if he has some
importance they'll take him to a Healer to have his aura read. If the
Healer finds indication of magical ability, then those people will be
Hider shook his head
in disgust, and he said, “If it's someone of the Lower Merchant class
or lower, then they kill them, or perhaps set them to hard labor, which
is the same thing, it just takes longer to die. With those they consider
no-accounts, like me and my friends, they don't even bother to take
us to a Healer. They just start killing, and if that person is in a
group of slum kids they're not too worried about finding out which one
is actually the Magic User. They'll just kill them all. That's why I
don't dare stay with the others.”
Tana was shocked, though
she didn't show it; she was back to being the professional she had been
trained to be. She asked, “Why do you stay here? With your ability
of Concealment, you would be welcome almost anywhere, and it wouldn't
be hard to get out of the country.”
Hider shrugged his
small shoulders and explained, “I used to be one of them, then suddenly
a couple of years ago, I was abruptly the leader, and with my ability
of Concealment I can steal much more than most of the others combined.
The others would have much less of a chance to survive if I left. With
what I steal, and what they're able to scrounge, and prostitution, at
times we still barely get by.”
Tana changed the subject,
“What about Considus?”
Hider gave a nod of
approval as he said, “Well you heard just about all you need to know
about him. When you see him, he looks like a plump, petulant spoiled
brat. He's the classic case of appearances being deceiving. He's actually
a kind, courageous person. To go against Marrko, he had to be. Even
the Prince is a bit afraid of Marrko, though there are rumors that they’re
much more closely aligned than the head of a country and a major criminal
should ever be,” he said with obvious disgust in his voice.
Tana decided to tell
him why she was there; he seemed so knowledgeable about his own society.
“Right now many children, both noble and common, are disappearing
from Camron, all of them into Madron, except Kinon. It has been determined
that someone is trying to start a war between our two countries by kidnapping
noble children. We're not going to move until everything is in place,
but we established that someone who had no connection to those trying
to start a war kidnapped Kinon. My team and I were given permission
to try to rescue him.”
Hider nodded in understanding
and then thought for a few minutes before speaking. “If Kinon was
an ordinary slaveboy Considus would be quite willing to sell him back,
Gods he might even give him back to you. He can easily afford the golds
he spent on the boy. Under the circumstances, he can't. For two reasons.
First, the Palace receives notification of all slaves to be sold in
Scart. The Prince rarely sees any of those reports. He would have seen
the report on Kinon. To sell a crested noble boy of Camron, he had to
have given specific written permission.”
made a very serious enemy when he purchased a boy that Marrko was bidding
on. In the past, those who have bid against the man have disappeared.
Only the fact that he's a noble, and in favor with the Prince, allowed
Considus to defy Marrko. If he ever loses the favor of the Prince he'll
be dead within hours.”
Hider paused to allow
her to digest the information before saving, “However there might
be a chance. Rumor has it Considus has been moving his money out of
the country. If true, if you can give him and his staff a safe haven,
and find a way to get him and his household staff out of the country,
you can probably get your nephew back.”
Tana smiled, “There's
a Camron merchant ship called the Moddy D in the harbor, just to provide
us with transport. There's a warship over the horizon to provide us
with an escort. We can easily manage a few extra passengers. In fact
we can easily squeeze in an additional twenty-one small bodies, with
no crowding at all.”
Hider's voice caught
in his throat, “You'll take us with you?” he asked, eagerly.
“Yes, I'd take more
if I could, but getting them aboard ship would be impossible.” Tana
“I'll have to ask
them, though I'm pretty sure what they'll say. We'll do what we can
to help you; people tend to ignore us, so we make good lookouts.”
Hider grinned at her, white teeth flashing in the moonlight. “Also
I think I can get in touch with Considus for you. The two times he took
me to his bed; I went to his gate and offered myself to him.”
Hider had guided Tana
back to her inn, and the next morning he gathered all of his little
band, even the lookouts were there. He was taking a bit of a chance,
but they would only be there for a few minutes.
Hider looked around
at the boys and girls, he felt affection for all of them, good humor
bubbling in his voice. He said to them, "Last night you were talking
about that slaveboy that Considus bought. The woman who I brought here
is named Tana Stark, and she's from Camron. The slaveboy is her brother's
son. She and her friends are King's Messengers, and they're here to
get her nephew back. They have a ship in the harbor."
Hider told the children,
"I want to help her. In return, she said that she would take us
with her when she leaves. I think we should go with her. We're nothing
here. Somewhere else, we can have a future and be real kids for a change."
The children huddled
together to talk about it. It didn't take them long to make up their
mind. Tres, at a few days past his twelfth birthday, was the oldest
of the children and acted as their spokesman.
The boy said with a serious expression on his face, "We woulda gone if you had told us to, but we're glad you asked us. You always take care of us and you always put us first. As you say we're nothing here and will be glad to go."
The rest of her team
had agreed with Tana's idea, and had prepared over the last couple of
days. Now if Hider could just get in and talk with Considus, they were
ready to move. Hider's band was in the area, acting as lookouts, and
Tana and her team hidden in a close by alley.
Hider used the small
gong, on the gate to announce his presence. The two gate guards came
out of the gatehouse. The older a middle-aged man asked gruffly, “What
do you want boy?”
“I need a couple
of coppers, I just wondered if the noble Considus could use a bedwarmer
for the night?” Hider asked seductively; well his idea of seduction.
The older guard shook
his head, telling him, “He bought a slaveboy. He hasn't taken any
other boys to his bed since.”
Hider looked at the
younger man, who was obviously interested. “How about you, sir?”
The younger man looked
at his superior asking, “How about it, sarge?”
The older man looked
at the naked little boy. He wasn't interested in boys, but he could
see that Hider was pretty. He said gruffly, “All right, he's been
here before. But you'll have to keep him in the gatehouse until your
shift is up, then take him to your room.”
The man unlocked the
gate and opened it enough for the boy to slip in, and then closed and
locked it again. The younger guard was already leading Hider into the
gatehouse, hand gently playing with the hair on the nape of his neck.
When the guard sat down, and drew the boy between his legs, Hider kissed
him more from happiness than from passion, as the man gently stroked
his bare back and bottom.
“All right!!! I said
after your shift is over!!” the Sergeant snapped with authority in
his voice. Before the younger guard had a chance to release him Hider
whispered in his ear, “How would Considus like to get out of the country?”
The man took his arms
tightly and pushed him backwards, holding the boy at arms length. The
older man said with amusement, “I didn't mean you had to throw him
The man said excitedly,
“Sarge, he asked me if Considus would like to get out of the country!”
The older man's short
sword whipped out of his sheath, and he pressed the tip of his blade
to Hider's throat. The boy didn't struggle and just looked mildly at
the blade. Somewhat embarrassed by his overreaction, the man sheathed
his sword, smiling sheepishly. He shook his finger at the boy, “Boy,
I put the sword away, but I can get it out just as quickly and you know
no one would care what happened to you. Tell me why you're here?”
Hider said calmly,
“The aunt of the slaveboy Considus bought is here in Tenve, about
a quarter of a mile from here. She's a Camron King's Messenger and she
has a team of four others with her. They have a ship ready in the harbor.
The tide is ready to change and that'll help them get out of the harbor.
If Considus wants to get out of Scart, she's ready to take him, and
any of his retainers who want to go with him.”
The Sergeant eyed the little boy with interest evident on his face. He said, to the younger guard, "I'll take him to the house while you stay here."
Tana's nephew Kinon
answered the library door. He nodded to Hider before looking at the
Sergeant, and saying respectfully, "Please come in sir." He
held the door open while Hider and the Sergeant entered them closed
it behind them.
Considus was sitting
behind a desk and Kinon went over to stand beside him. Considus patted
the small naked slaveboy on the bottom, saying, "Thank you, little
He looked at the two
who had just entered. He looked with a little bit of puzzlement at the
small nude boy, who accompanied the Sergeant. Hider saw recognition
come into Considus's eyes as the man realized that he had employed the
boy as a prostitute on several occasions.
Considus looked at
the Sergeant and asked, "Yes, Bayes what is it?" in a pleasant
Bayes put his hand
on Hider's small shoulder and told his employer, "This little one
has a message for you sir."
Considus looked at
Hider his eyebrows raised in a questioning expression. Hider responded
by pointing to that boy with the slave collar saying, "Kinon's
Aunt Tana is a Camron King's Messenger. She's here in Tenve to get her
Hider saw Kinon's small
hands clench as he realized with joy that his family had come for him.
Considus gave a sigh of relief and patted the boy on the back encouragingly.
Hider paused for a
moment to let them recover and then said, "She has a ship waiting
in the harbor." He gave a grin, "I've been hearing rumors
that you've been sending your money out of the country. Tana said she
would take you, and any of your retainers who want to go, out of the
As Hider had said a
couple of nights before, Considus's appearance was deceptive. When given
the proposition, he acted quickly and decisively. Within minutes, abandoning
everything they walked through the gate, Considus, his cook, and housekeeper,
the gardener and his son and his four personal guards, and Kinon.
As they made their
way down to the harbor, and the abandoned wharf chosen as the departure
point, Hider's band filtered in to join them. There were half a dozen
boats ready to load with passengers and they left at five-minute intervals.
Considus showing what he really was, not simply what he looked like
on the outside, waited for the last one to leave. It was about ready
to pull out, when they heard voices from the wharf above them. “I'm
sure I heard something coming from around here,” said one of the voices
loudly and vehemently.
Hider said, in a whisper,
“Go, and try not to splash too much.”
As the men began to
pull on the muffled oars, he grasped both sides of the boat and concentrated
with all his might on Concealment.
As the boat glided
away from the wharf, it faded from sight, and when the men who had been
talking reached the end of the wharf only the occasional splash made
by an oar was visible, and they took that to be fish jumping out of
When they reached the
ship Moddy D, they were quickly unloaded, the boat gotten back
on board ship. The anchor that was holding the ship in place was cut
and the ship allowed to drift out to sea with the tide. Nobody on the
galley warships even noticed. Once well out of the harbor, they raised
the sails and the ship headed out to sea to join her warship escort.
Tana at the rail with
her arms around Hider's chest watched the city disappear behind them.
“I wish we had been able to free all of her children,” she said
regretfully to the boy.
“Don't worry. I intend
to come back, and when I do, Scart is going to need a new Prince!!”
He spoke with such absolute certainty that Tana shivered with complete
Behind them, they could hear Hider's band yelling and cheering as they sailed into a new life.