The First Ill Omen

“You’re tha mewlin’, crook-pated clotpole who thaw she could cry her way into the Uni’, in’t you?”

It was dawn, now, and Krin Rosess had just been woken up by a hand on her shoulder, too close to her neck to be universally friendly. A boy sat squatted next to her, his grin missing three teeth and his hair concealed by a wool cap that was tugged to cover his ears. A knife-point tickled her neck, and when she tried to recoil away the boy’s firm fingertips dug into her shoulder. Too frightened by the greeting to scream, the red-haired woman only whimpered.

“Carefoo, girlie. Wouldn’ want mai hand t’–” The knife-point dipped forwards just enough to scratch Krin’s neck. She inhaled, sharply, not willing to shift her body underneath the blanket the guardsman had shoved into her hands before returning to his post.

“So I seent you had a purse unner there, an’ I heard th’ coins clackin’. I got good ears, yah?” The fingers on her shoulder left and moved for the blanket that still covered her; next to Krin the brazier that she had fallen asleep next to was only simmering ashes by now, but she could still feel the faintest memories of heat from it. She edged her hand to her hip, where the handle of her dagger had dug into her belly all night long. “Thinkin’ I’ll have it, yup.”

Clumsily, the boy tried to pull the blanket off of Krin, to throw it aside while still keeping the knife close to her throat. He was obviously ill-practiced at this, and the girl suddenly remembered the guardsman saying that she would be safe, here, that the beggars and miscreants were kept away from Willow Lane.

When the blanket was pulled away, Krin was the first to move. She squirmed out from under the knifepoint and a hand quickly grabbed for his; she was faster, and he was pointedly un-prepared for her resistance. There was a scramble, and at the end of it the Lithmori youth had the boy pinned underneath an elbow, and her dagger danced right infront of his eyes. She’d rapped his knuckles, and the knife he owned was out across the cobblestones here in the alleyway.

“Scream and I’ll give you a real reason to scream, you little fly-bitten lout!” Krin’s voice was low but menacing, and a fire played in her eyes: did the boy think she would be an easy prey, that she could not protect herself? Oh Lunare was he wrong, and Krin felt blood pumping heavily in her heart: it was excillerating.

Underneath her, the boy simpered. “I yield, I yield,” he said, his dirty accent entirely gone. “Please don’t hurt me.” The request earned a scowl, and a darker look besides, and Krin grabbed at the boy’s own purse, which was held right at his waistline in plain sight. It was heavy, and in it she thought she felt gold: some merchant’s brat, then, if she had anything to guess. Her mind felt muted but all she could think of was the guardsman from the eve before laughing at her poor clothng and telling her she would never be inside the University.

“You’re stupid, and I’m taking this because of it.” A look of panic stretched across the boy’s face. “I don’t care what you tell them,” she said, her tone edgy and mad. By the end of the day she was certain there would be a poster out for her arrest. She dipped the dagger closer. “You tell them what I look like, though, and I’ll find you in your sleep.” The boy couldn’t be older than thirteen, she guessed, and must pass his mornings running around the alleys pretending to be a thief.

“Don’t think I don’t know.” And it was as easy as that.

Trouble at the University

“You have been standing around long enough, like a starving, sun-blind bat. Leave, girl, and go find a hearth-fire that will welcome you.”

It was cold on Willow Lane—but it was cold everywhere across Lithmore, certainly—and the strong near-dusk winds only exasperated the chill and made it bite deeply into the hearts of every poor fool still outside. Of those fools, the broad man (who was only a single of the half-dozen men of the Queen’s Guard set at post to the University) was one, and the blue-cloaked Lithmore girl—a youth, a woman, certainly no child—was another, and it was she, the latter, who cowered away from the sharp words directed to her.

“I’ve come to join the University,” she said, her labored breathing turning to a frosted mist in front of her face. Her teeth chattered together, and her cloak of thin linen was clearly less capable of turning away the cold than the guardsman’s heavy fur-lined construct of wool.

The man laughed at her, though the sound quickly turned into a broken cough and then to words. “It’s too damn cold for a laugh, girl. Come here, warm yourself, but then be on your way.”

Hesitantly the girl approached; the fire was warm, and the guards smiled a tired sort of smile that said they wanted to be somewhere even warmer. “I’m not joking,” and the firm voice from the small woman earned a scowl from the man who had been speaking, and stranger looks from the others. “There’s no easy work to be found, but I came here to learn, anyways.” Her pale blue eyes watch the towering stone structure ahead of her as if it might descend down and greet her personally.

Awkward looks passed between the men present, and the speaker chose himself to disappoint her. “Go home, girl,” he said. “The University is not cheap, and want alone does not let you into the halls.” The look he gave to the strawberry-haired girl was fairly kind. “You would need to come in summer, when the head professors accept new students. It’s not for you, go find some tavern to serve at, you seem a nice enough girl.”

The words were not what the woman wanted to hear, and her eyes turned onto the guardsman with a wrath. “And you get that authority?” she snapped, her lips pressing together into a thin line of unveiled irritation. “I think I deserve to—“

“—You don’t deserve anything, girl,” the man cut in, his louder voice, and more firm, silencing her in a breath. “I have the authority to keep vagabonds off of the University’s doorstep, so mind your tongue and be on your way, or else I will have you dragged off.”

Krin—as that was the woman’s name: Krin Rosess, from Maides—folded her arms and glared at the man even further. “I don’t believe you,” she said, “I think that you are lying.”

He was not.

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