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Pen Your Pride

Be My Princess

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Prologue

It was the hottest day in memory, at the time. The harsh Coerithean sun beat down on our dirt covered faces, baking in the day's filth and grime. We walked along the busy streets of the marketplace, painfully aware of the disparaging looks the market goers shot our way. Mothers pulled their children closer with instructions to keep clear of us. Men clung to their pockets and coin purses in obvious fashion. Occasionally a shopkeeper would sneer in our direction, silently reminding us of what would greet us should we try anything at their establishment.

I lagged several paces behind the others, my feet aching from the long walk. Having no place to truly call our own, we'd created our own little settlement just outside the village. Folks seldom travelled that far outside the comforts and safety of the village, leaving us relatively safe and out of the way. It was a long walk, longer still when the sweltering heat prevented us from running to cut the time.

Beads of sweat streamed down my face, mixing with the dirt that had settled to create its own pungent perfume.

I remember being hungry. My stomach growled, the noise masked only by the overpowering sounds of the marketplace around us, but I could still feel the way it rumbled all the same.

Yesterday's raid had been unrewarding. We'd returned "home" with nothing but a smack to the back of our heads and outlandish threats of what would happen the next time we were caught. There were always threats. Always promises of the ills we would receive if we didn't stop taking what didn't belong to us. At 8, I was already cognisant of the fact that we were something to be scorned and looked down upon. It was in their eyes every time they looked at us. We were the undesirables; a plague that ravished the kingdom. When they looked at us, they didn't see children in need of a hug and a warm meal, they saw street rats come to take and take....and take.

I suppose, looking back, I could understand the resentment. All we'd ever done was steal; robbing them of their profits and their livelihood.

That didn't make it hurt any less.

Today's trip into the town was for bread. It was Samuel who'd told us of the baker's decision to toss out the bread he hadn't managed to sell on the previous day. Samuel had done well for us. We wouldn't have to spend a second night hungry.

Life was tough for us orphans but we managed well enough because we had each other. That was perhaps the most important code we shared. There was a level of collectivism. All for the group. Make sacrifices for the group. Look out for the group. If we didn't, no one else would.

"Kiara, hurry up or you won't get any!" My bestfriend Chloe yelled. At 9, she was already a fiery one. She wasn't afraid to take you on for looking at her in a way she didn't like and she was equally ready to throw a punch as she saw necessary. There wasn't a single thing she was afraid of and there wasn't a person she wouldn't stand her ground against—for better or for worse.

I looked to her, noting that her hands were already filled with the refuse of the day before. My gaze trailed from her to the chaotic crowd of children no younger than 6 but no older than 13. They pushed and shoved like wild animals who hadn't been fed in weeks. The savagery with which they lunged for the scraps the man had not managed to sell left me with one, solid realization; there was no way I'd be able to get any . . . I could see myself attempting to push my way through the crowd and I could see myself getting knocked back each time.

"What's wrong?" Chloe questioned, her head tilting at an angle as she took in what I imagine must have been a rather crestfallen expression etched into my face. She followed my gaze back to the hoard, understanding without my needing to speak. That was the sort of relationship we'd had. I'd always been a girl of very few words but we'd never really had a problem communicating. "Here, I'll get you some too." She said decisively as she dumped her spoils into my hands.

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