Nick scanned through broken cupboards for a cup. Upon finding one, he used some melted snow inside of a pot and set it on a small fire. A packet of instant drink mix was pulled out from the back of a drawer he then set down a cup of lukewarm beverage for himself, Narice, and an open seat.
“Sorry,” he spoke, “we don’t have much here. This was all I could scrounge up.”
“What’s this place about?”
From the edges of the doorway, peeping eyes stared at the two sitting at the table.
Nick motioned for the peeping eyes to come out. “It’s okay you all.”
Narice noticed young children from three to twelve surrounding the two of them.
“I take care of the abandoned kids here… Since a new leader took charge of the castle a few years ago- they’ve been adding up.”
Narice started to realize the effect of suppression from the capital. The kids looked to be in ragged clothes and malnourished, however, Nick seemed to be the most malnourished of all of them. Even so, he’d risked himself to save his life.
“Why… did you help me?”
“Because you needed it,” Nick responded as if that were the only right answer. His perspective it seemed was that people should naturally care for each other, “also because- I hate what the king is doing to the kingdom.”
Narice looked at Nick and noticed that he took it seriously. To him it seemed there was a sense of pride in the kingdom… he seemed genuinely troubled by its status- but who was this guy to take up the responsibilities of the kingdom?
Narice already had major respect for this young man.
“Who are you?” Narice said curiously while taking a sip of the cider. It was ok- not much, but must have been a lot for this guy to scrounge up.
“I can honestly say… no one of importance,” Nick smiled. For some reason as well it seemed that Nick held a sense of pride at this statement.
“Anyways, Let me introduce you,” Nick said pointing out the group.
“This is Jimbo,” an eight year old, light brown and red hair, holding onto the hand of the three year old, “hello” It seemed he was the caretaker of the group in a way. “He’s got a big heart.”
“Tyler,” seemed like a curious six year old. “whassup,” he smiled through newly dropped front teeth. “He’s a troublemaker, but he looks out for the group…”
“Tilsa,” she was seven, and the only girl. “Hi!”
“Jobe,” Jobe was the next oldest to Nick, and it seemed next in line as far as responsibility.
“And the littlest one, Aaron,” Nick said smiling at the three year old next to Jimbo, he was somewhat tucked away behind Jimbo’s leg, and also seemed a bit excited when he saw Narice’s visage. His tiny finger traced along the edges of the robes he was wearing.
Tyler pulled at Narice’s pants leg, “let me schhow you schomething.”
Tyler pulled Narice into a side room, Narice looked inside, there were six small hammock-like beds jutting across the walls, three on each side of the room. It was barely enough for the beds it seemed but a little chest was at the end with a window letting light in. However, none of the kids seemed to realize how destitute the little loft was. Tyler picked up a bow with some soil and a leaf growing out of it. He handed the treasure to Narice.
“stheeee!” he smiled.
“It’s actually quite uncommon to find plant life in this climate….” Nick explained. “Tyler’s been taking care of the plant since he found it… watering it and giving it sunlight.” Nick rubbed Tyler’s scruffy head of hair.
“You’re doing a wonder job, Tyler,” Nick said while Tyler proudly put the rock back on the sill.
It seemed there was the entrance, which doubled as a dining room and kitchen, a small hall that connected a bathroom to the right and a singular bedroom to the left.
“How did you end up here?” Narice asked.
“We are all orphans,” Nick explained, “and we’ve all been left to fend for ourselves.”
Narice watched as the three year old was squirmily pulling ‘Jimbo’s pants leg, “Jimbo…I go poo poo…”
“Ok, buddy…” Jimbo pulled Aaron into the bathroom after pulling down a diaper from a shelf holding toilet paper, diapers and two towels.
“Thankfully, the community helps us out with essentials… either myself or Jobe go out to gather supplies, that’s how we’re able to scrape by…” Nick said, “The community is actually really kind around here but as things are…” Nick frowned, “anyway… what brings you to a place like Jubilee?”
Despite the nature of the kingdom, Nick’s question reminded Narice that he already had a mission. Narice took a glance at the ‘item finder’. Surprisingly it pointed right to Nick. He wondered if the castle was right on the other side.
“I have a question…” Narice asked Nick based on new knowledge of the finder pointing at Nick.
“What is it?”
“Do you know how to get inside the castle?” Narice spoke.
Being out of the blue in conversation- Nick tried to gain some insight with “What made you ask that?”
Nick frowned in contemplation, “so… you need some ‘jewel’ to stop a man named Ka’atra?” his eyebrows frowned, “I have to admit, your story is a little far ‘fetched. Elves? Magic? And you think this blizzard is an act of some sort of Magician… I’m sorry… this is somewhat preposterous to imagine.
Narice had to think of something to convince him. If the elf were with him he would be able to cast a spell to prove magic was real. Narice himself could only display a magic sword transforming from a jewel and a relic that swirled around a bit- which he wasn’t even sure looked like magic. He sighed as he rummaged through his other belongings in the bag in the hope that the elves gave him something else.
“Even if I believed you, even if I did know how to get inside the castle. And who would take care of these kids?”
Nick posed another fair question. Narice would have pursued this line of thought no further except that as Narice looked at the finder, it still pointed at Nick which, based on the magic the ‘finder’ was based upon – Nick was still the shortest route to getting the jewel.
Whether or not he could keep his word, Narice had to do something, “What if… we could stop the king?”
To this, Nick’s eyes lit up for an instant. It did not go unnoticed by Narice. He’d taken the bait.
Nick had brushed off the flash, probably in the hopes of a stronger bargaining on his own part or perhaps just rationalizing, “That’s a good purpose and all- but how would you do something like that?”
Narice wasn’t sure himself… With Rome’s magic and enough preparation however- perhaps he could work a way inside of the castle. However- as Rome had told him about the castle’s alliance to the magic community – the castle was not unprepared against magical forces.
Narice knew that Nick had to know something but was attempting his best not to let on that he did.
“I have an elf friend waiting for me outside of the gates,” Narice replied. “He has powerful magic. Perhaps with his help we could do something?”
“Hmm,” Nick responded, “I do in fact know a way into the castle…”
Now it was Narice’s turn to be surprised. Nick now let on a bit more than previously for an unapparent reason.
“If you get your friend here…” Nick responded, “I’ll tell you more of what I know… I may even help you.”
It seemed that Nick’s change in attitude was based on a condition. The elf. Even still, Narice was glad that there was a chance.
“Okay,” Narice replied. To get Romani back here however… it would require Narice to leave the city somehow- the giant wall and gates that surrounded Jubilee. By this time the sun had already set. Narice figured it would be difficult however,
“I need a way out of this city though,” Narice spoke.
“I can help with that…” Nick replied. He seemed to be in a more cheerful mood for some reason. Perhaps all that he wanted was hope of a new life, Narice wondered.
He gave directions the second oldest Jobe, “watch over the kids while i’m away.”
Narice was impressed by how he handled everything.
Nick followed by gathering a sort of worn out cloak from off of a bed that the littlest one probably had been using as an extra blanket. Despite being worn out- it seemed to have a nice quality to it. Narice wondered where Nick may have gotten it from. As Nick donned on the cloak- he suddenly took on a unique appearance- almost regal.
“Well- you ready?” Nick replied with a walking stick in hand brushing off any questioning gaze from Narice.
“Where are we going?” Narice replied.
Nick looked outside, “the guards shift at sunrise and sunset against the walls. If we’re going to approach it- it’s best when they’re distracted.”
Once again- Narice was impressed by Nick’s knowledge. For a nobody- he sure seemed to know a lot of stuff.
After dashing across the opening from the houses to the wall at the right timing- They leaned against the wall as the sun began to dim against the horizon.
Nick removed a large brick from the bottom layer of the wall – revealing a small tunnel underneath.
“I’ll have to close this up- but you should be able to enter the same way if you do in fact plan to come back into the city…”
Narice realized that despite having been excited by the prospect of stopping the king and Nick was still a realist.
Suddenly Narice had a thought as he looked at the finder.
“If you know how to escape, then why haven’t you ever done it?”
To this Nick gave a characteristic response, “And leave the orphans?”
Ah. That. Narice thought.
“Why don’t you and the orphans leave together?”
“Even if me and the orphans did leave…” Nick replied, “there isn’t anywhere to go for a hundred miles. The trek would be dangerous, and i’m not capable of protecting them outside.”
“What if you met someone who could help you protect them?” Narice hadn’t initially intended to take on that responsibility, but the thought came out before he could consider the implications of taking care of six little kids. Even still, he wasn’t unwilling.
To this, Nick gave a more understanding response,
“My place is here in Jubilee, “Even if i knew the six of them were safe- i’m the one people turn to to take care of others. and until i feel that Jubilee will head to a better direction – i can’t leave Jubilee.”
Narice looked back at Nick and sighed. Even if the finder pointed at Nick who was only a couple feet from himself, it didn’t seem it would be that easy to achieve the next step. He nodded to Nick as a farewell and then crawled through the opening in the wall. As he looked backward, the light from the other side the hole closed upon him.
He stepped out on the free side of the wall to the familiar forest that he’d first approached Jubilee from.