The Charlatans

"Sir! Good merchant, sir, could I interest you in a game of chance? The rules are quite simple, you need only pick a figure between nought and a dozen, and I shall attempt to place myself in your shoes that I may guess what you did choose! Come, sir, it's a bargain; if you best me, you will receive three gold coins. If I should somehow manage to guess your guess right proper, you need only give me one of your wonderful meatpies. Truly, I must be a fool of a girl to offer such a deal!

Very good, sir! I'll just let you think of your number...

Done? Good! Let me just think for a moment...

Oh, very clever sir, thirteen! You thought you had me with using the dozen of a baker, didn't you? I'll just be taking my pie, then..."

The piemaker's cleaver came down on the counter of his booth, mere inches from the street performer's hand. He didn't look very happy with the developments.

"You'll not touch my pies, filth."

"Sir, I assure---"

"Trickery, that is!"

"No trickery, I can---"

"You're one of the King's infernal witches in disguise, come to steal the goods of the working folk, aren't you?"

"I'm no witch, sir---"

"Is your king's ransom of a wage not enough for you, witch? Guards! Bring this witch to the castle!"

The young woman gave up trying to reason with the piemaker and removed her hand from his booth before he removed it for her. While being believed to be one of the King's 'witches' may have been beneficial elsewhere, the peasants in this district were distrustful of 'magic', and even the guards there would not be happy to see a magic user amongst the commonfolk. Plus, if the guards actually escorted her to the castle, there would be hell to pay when they found out she wasn't who they thought she was.

So, she began to walk away through the crowd, doing an excellent job of blending in considering she had just been the centre of attention a mere moment ago. It was clear she had some experience with situations like this. She probably would have gotten away, too, were it not for the fact that the pie she had rightfully won disappeared just then, sending the piemakers into a fervour. Quickly scanning the crowd again, he caught sight of the girl.

"Thief! Thief! Witch and thief! Stop that girl!"

"Sh**," she muttered, keeping her head down as she began to sprint through the crowd.

You were supposed to wait.

A flurry of mental noise curiously reminiscent of a fast-paced argument caused her to grimace before it sorted itself out into one discernible voice in her head.

Yeah, well... if I let you get away first, I wouldn't have had a distraction.

Claire couldn't help but chuckle inwardly at the tone her boyfriend used. His excuse was half-assed, and he didn't put any conviction into it. It was clear he only didn't even believe it himself, but at least he wasn't just rolling over, for once.

Besides, I panicked. I don't like seeing you in danger.

She smiled then, but she was careful not to project that thought along with her other ones.

Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Where are you?

Just around the next corner. I can see yo-- DUCK!

Claire pulled her head down even further, just in time for the piemaker's cleaver to soar past it, and then she spun around the corner of a building into an alley. She plastered herself against the wall, panting heavily from the run and the excitement. Mere seconds after she stopped, two guards ran into the alley as well, with the piemaker not far behind them. However, they ran right past her, and left out the other side of the alley a moment later.

Claire sighed and looked beside her, intending on thanking her saviour, but instead she simply froze.

"What? You want a bite?" said a grinning Chris, who had already began to dig into the meat pie.

Claire slapped him on the chest, but smiled back at him and grabbed a piece for herself, not seeming to mind getting her hand dirty. "Whatever happened to ladies first?" she demanded as she took her first bite, making quite a bit of a mess on her face.

Chris stared at the spectacle and then laughed. "Show me a lady and I'll let her eat first," he joked, nimbly dodging out of the way of another smack from his girlfriend. "Seriously though, I let you eat first every other time, and I was hungry!" Claire looked a little too busy with her pie to reply, so Chris shrugged and grabbed another piece, this time offering it to Claire first. "This one looks"

He stared not at Claire, but above her, at the imposing man who had grabbed her hand and was staring down at her, loathing scrawled across his rough features. "I suggest you don't move if you don't want the lady's wrist broken," said the man, and although he looked old, Chris didn't doubt for a moment that he could snap Claire's arm with ease. He kept understandably still.

Claire, however, didn't like where this was going one bit, and with malice in her eyes, she brought her free fist to the man's face.

While the man remained unfazed, Claire withdrew her fist with a pained cry, as if she had just punched a wall and not a man. A brief glimpse of the man's thoughts before extensive mental defenses came into play confirmed that whatever he was, it wasn't quite human. Upon learning this, she seemed to give up.

This time, it was Chris' turn to act. Perhaps seeing his girlfriend injured unleashed some more decisive part of him, perhaps he has simply been waiting for the ideal moment to act the whole time, but either way, it was then that he grabbed Claire by the shoulder and walked backward through the wall they had been leaning on a moment ago, phasing through it and the man's hand as if they were only illusions.

However, no sooner had they phased into the building than did they phase out again, this time no more visible than a gust of wind as they ran down the alley and away from the angered man, who was already seeking out the door of the building, hoping to trap them inside.

"I hope we never see him again," Claire muttered darkly when they were a safe distance away, rubbing her injured hand.

Chris nodded, glancing at Claire's fist with concern in his eyes. "Maybe it's time we move to another town."

The End

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