“Sir, I can quite clearly see you already have a pair of gloves and you only want a spare pair, however I also noticed you only showed me the back of them. Now I’m just going to guess by the state of the back that the front is likely already frayed if not holey. Wait I don’t need you to start yelling about calling you a liar, as I said it was just a guess. A guess based on 3 years of making, wearing and selling gloves just like those but still a guess. So, you tell me that you only want a spare pair for 18 coppers, but I think you actually want a replacement pair that will last you the entire ploughing and harvest season worth about 36 coppers, so... wait one moment please?” I ask the reddening farmer as I take a quick side-step to the other side of the table where my unfortunate victim awaits.
A vicious side kick lashes the would-be thief, that was reaching for a pair of gloves, across the temple. As he toppled to the ground and I lowered my leg I started to reach for the wood-cutting axe I keep under the table. When I brandish the axe and place it on my shoulder his 3 friends that were originally moving forward to help stop dead in their tracks, frozen, as I move towards their mate who was just recovering from the fall.
As he turns to look at me, I swing the axe downwards. The blade digs into the earth, inches from the kid’s leg.
“EEEKK!!” the kid shrieks, backpedalling as fast as he can.
“fuck off, next time you try that shit, your leaving something behind.” I say in a flat voice looking him straight in the eye.
As he scrambles up, saying sorry over and over again, with tears in his eyes, running to his friends who join him in his retreat. The hunters and the locals clap while laughing while the clearly new customer is still standing there shocked.
“sorry about that, tell you what I'll make it 34 coppers for the gloves and we’ll call it even” I negotiate, as he quickly paid and left.
“Nice of you kid, giving a discount and that” the hunter at the stall next to me says with a knowing smirk.
“Come off it, Arthur, we both know that when I called his bluff on the old pair and gave him the price for a new pair he would have just started haggling again and I'd probably settle for 28 or 30 at best. If anything, I owe that kid for providing entertainment that saved me 6 coppers and about 10 minutes of time.” I say to him, smirking at the memory.
“Ha haha, good one kid” Arthur chuckles beside me. The other hunters had stopped treating me like a brat since a year ago and instead joked like I was one of them.
It might seem slightly harsh what I did to the kid but in reality, it was kinder than he would get if he tried elsewhere. If an adult is caught stealing and the owner presses charges, the guards would chop off a number of fingers, depending on the theft, or the whole hand if it was a repeat offence. There’s only a single cell attached to the guard’s room that’s for serious crimes where a person is awaiting trial. No long term sentencing here, too light a punishment to be deterrent and too expensive to look after dead weight. Child that age, my age though they looked younger from lack of protein, would be very unlikely to be dismembered, unless they robbed a noble, but they would still receive a serious beating from the shopkeeper and when they were brought to their fathers by the guard, they would likely receive another. In my case the adults know better than to try and steal from hunters who have the best eyes and fastest hands out of the different types of peddlers.
As for the kids, they see that I'm about the same age as them and think I'm an easy target. So nearly every market one tries to slip by me and everyone receives a kick or back-hand to the head that’s controlled to give them a tumble and disorient but won’t cause long time damage or lasting mark. The axe is just for theatrics and to solidify the message to any would be repeat attempts. The first time I sold at market I was targeted 4 times in 3 days before I got annoyed and knocked an older kid’s front teeth out. Since then, I use the axe, makes good stories around the taverns as well.
After that incident the day continued as usual, made a few sales, had lunch that mum made me and chatted with Arthur about local gossip. All was well, until a young girl came up to my table, Mary the daughter of the blacksmith who I and my siblings play with occasionally, panting and out of breath.
“Ben *pant pant* there’s trouble, some big kid started shouting at Ed and then punched him. There still fighting!” she said.
*sigh* “Arthur can you watch my stuff, I'll be back in a bit” I ask the hunter. I’ve known Arthur for 3 years now and he knows I have good connections with the town guard so I trust him not to steal, or at least not steal anything truly expensive. A missing pair of gloves is what I deserve if I leave my table unattended, that’s just common sense.
As I jog after Mary, I start to wonder why I can’t get a break. This happened quite regularly when I started, some of the thieves I attacked would cry to their big siblings and come for revenge when the market closes and I'm heading home. It doesn’t end well, none of the locals even try anymore since when I was 6. The butchers second son, a big bastard who was 13 at the time, brought 2 friends with sticks to ambush me when I was coming back from a hunt. They offered to carry my catch home for me, and when I politely refused, they insisted. A bit of back and forth, 2 stones, a trip and a shoulder throw, left 3 kids crying and 1 sighing. Guess which is which.
The reason I was sighing was that we were fighting at the edge of the woods and one of the bullies had a sprained ankle from my trip, while the others had 2 broken fingers and the other had a dislocated shoulder. So not only did I have to help them limp home, but when we got home the adults yelled at us for a good hour straight, them for trying to steal and me for hurting them excessively. Luckily since that day they’ve avoided me like the plague and I could go about my business in peace.
As we reach a clearing behind several houses, I can see Ed and another boy fighting. It’s not that bad, although the other boy is clearly much older than Ed, and definitely winning, it wasn’t one-sided. The boy was clearly a farmer’s kid and although he’s got some muscle, a lack of meat in his diet has led to a skinny frame for his size. On the other hand, Ed has eaten very well thanks to mother and me, and from about 2 years ago he started to join me in working out. Though he doesn’t work as hard or know how to use qi, he is more developed than other kids his age and has copied some of my boxing kata, as evidenced by the other boys bruised face.
Unfortunately, the difference in reach and weight can’t be overcome with a few punches. Ed was soon caught and put into a headlock when I arrived. As I approached the boy’s side, I grabbed the skin of his tricep and twisted.
“OUCH” he screamed in surprise, releasing Ed and backing away to confront the intruder.
“I don’t like it when people pick on my brother. Apologize to him and leave or you are going to get hurt” I say as I plant my feet wary of him trying to tackle me.
“Me, apologize to you??!! Your brother is the one that stole my brother’s sweets and made him cry, yet you want me to apologize?! Fuck you!!” the boy screams as he gets red from rage.
“What?” I ask, stunned for a brief moment. Looking behind the angry boy I see another who looks like a younger version of him with puffy eyes and dirty clothes.
“It was just a sweet roll there was no point getting so upset about it!” Ed shouts from behind. It’s the truth? “Just a sweet roll, my brother has been begging for one since last market, dad spent some his own saving’s just to...” The other boy continued, but I had already started to tune it out.
As I turned around, I looked at my little brother who I have loved, cared for and protected for 7 years. Look into his eyes Ifeel sadness, shame... and rage. Ed starts to look confused as I plant my fist in his gut with the strength of a full-grown man.
“UURRGH” Ed blurts as he buckles to the floor, vomiting his lunch. ‘probably that sweet roll too’ I think turning around to face the now stunned boy and our audience.
“My brother has caused you problems and the fault lie with me for lack of discipline. Here is all the money I earned at the market today.” I pass him my bag of 216 coppers. “I’m sorry for any stress, inconvenience and pain we have caused, if you’re still angry, feel free to beat me as much as you want, just leave Ed alone” I say while bowing my head to the older brother.
“Wait, no, I-I, it’s okay... you didn’t have to do that.” he stutters confused. This isn’t supposed to go this way, he’s thinking. We were supposed to fight; one goes home cheering the other in tears. That’s how brats' arguments are resolved.
“yes, I did” I say to him as i walk back to Ed. I had no reason to fear him, he’s taller than me but I've fought taller and stronger before and won. It’s not a case of losing, it’s a matter of what comes after winning. If this was just a case of 2 kid’s playing getting out of hand, or Ed pulled a prank on someone and they took it badly then I wouldn’t care whether they were weaker or stronger than me, they’d have to kill me before they get anywhere near my brother. This wasn’t one of those situations. This was a case of Ed stealing and bullying a kid smaller than him due to his fortunate circumstances and when someone came for revenge, he dragged his family into it with him, expressing no regret over it.
“Get up” I tell Ed who had mostly recovered now and was catching his breath. “we’re leaving” as I grab his shoulder, pulling him to his feet. Under the eyes of a dozen kids, some familiar some strangers, we leave the clearing, me in front dragging my brother behind.
As we reach the main road I head straight to the inn, I can tell how Ed feels without looking. Betrayed, fearful and confused. Good, if he feels those then it means he will expect me to do the same thing if an incident like this happens again. Of course, he’s not getting off this lightly.
When we reach the inn, I tell him to wait outside, not caring if he listens or not, as I enter the building. If he thinks he can run then I will show him what it is like to be prey, before catching him and demonstrating the full extent of my fists of love upon his skull.
I don’t see mum, it’s the market day so she’s likely still inn then kitchen either cleaning up from lunch, or preparing dinner. Either doesn’t matter as I don’t need mum just yet. I make my way to Greta, who is standing behind the check in desk, no one in front of her just now.
“well hey there Ben, what brings you here, I thought the market was still going on? If you’re looking for Helen, she’s busy so come back later.” Greta says to me.
“Hey Aunt Greta, I don’t need mum, but rather my brother needs a lesson in personal responsibility. Paul should be busy right now, mind letting Ed help him?” I ask her. She’s not actually my aunt, or related to me in any way, but asks us to call her that and I forgave her for the first meeting, so I don’t even call her Sadist behind her back anymore.
Greta looks at me in slight surprise, and seeing the seriousness in my eyes, smirks.
“well that brat finally took one step too far, huh. Well, let no one say I don’t do my part to help the children, Ed can work here long as he likes, hell he can help clean the latrines when he’s done as well if you like.” Greta hasn’t liked Ed much since he started copying my way of calling her Sadist, even before learning what it meant, and sharing it with the other kids. ,
I thank her and move outside. When I see Ed is still there, I take my shirt off, exposing my upper muscles. My abs are tight, leading to strong pectorals. The other side, my back is taut from years of hunting. Defined shoulders hold a pair of arms reminiscent of crossbows, each capable of sending stones, or punches flying. Skin is rough and yellow form days of exposure to the sun and travelling difficult terrain. It is the body of a beast, honed from 6 years of training, hunting and qi enhancements, not the sort of body you imagine when thinking of a child.
Ed has seen my muscles before, we’ve even bathed together, and in the past, he would be proud to have such a strong brother. Now It’s likely just reminded him of earlier as he’s gone pale in anticipation of further beating.
“take off your shirt” I tell him. He likely doesn’t know what I mean as he stands there. “I said take off your shirt!” I say again, sharper this time.
He complies, hesitatingly taking off his shirt, exposing the body of although healthy, in other ways completely normal 7-year-old body. As he passes me his vomit covered shirt, I wipe his mouth clean with the dry bits before giving him mine and telling him to put it on, which he does. After I bring him to the side of the inn where the stables are and hand him to Paul the stable hand. I tell Paul that he is to get Ed to do whatever he thinks he can and send him home before dark.