Chapter 7: Episode 30-"Smugglers"
“We are going where?” Hercule queried above a whisper at the back of the trio of smugglers. Aliyah and Regal in unison turned and shushed him. Hercule held up his palms defensively as if to say, ‘my bad’. The other two accepted this response with stern expressions the threatened him not to do it again. Hercule half rolled his eyes and mumbled something under his breath about them being no fun.
For a long while there was silence among the troop outside of the splashing and soft patter of their footfalls on the wet cobble steps from the fresh water gate. Water pooled on the stairs from condensation and infrequent passage of guards and palace slaves from the slick bank of the channel and back again. Regal watched his steps carefully so as not to slip unwittingly, causing a clamor and alerting guards of their presence. Hercule was less cautious and seemed to pay no mind of anything as he, lost in thoughts and imaginings of his own mind took the stairs two at a time.
Aliyah and Regal had gained some distance on Hercule as they maintained a steady and careful pace, attempting to get out of the lower levels of the wall of the city and into the clear as soon as possible. Hercule was left behind a few feet and traveling at his own pace, a very casual and laid back speed as if there was nothing on the line here. He did not know, at least he wasn’t aware that he knew the danger of their present circumstances. One of the advantages to losing one’s mind was the ability to not feel stressed or worried about situations: the downside was that he could be so disconnected because he truly had no concept of the seriousness of situations.
“This way. Hurry now.” Aliyah whispered hurriedly as she guided Regal by the arm to the right, setting him on the right path and waiting at the top of the stairs to help Hercule along when he caught up. Regal gladly accepted the lead of the three burglars and confidently walked the hall as if he knew where he was. Hercule figured he had done this a few times, but not recently. Regal had a grasp of the situation, but that was nothing to note. Regal was always in charge of anything; Hercule could remember games, times when their father was away, schooling, anything Regal took part in he was in charge of: the man liked to wear the hat of a commander. Not to say he wore it poorly, but he definitely was a better leader than follower.
“Where are we….?” Hercule asked as he passed by Aliyah and she directed him to the right of the two passage choices. His question was missing the word ‘going’ but it seemed as if he would eventually say it, he left the last word of his question to be assumed. Aliyah waited for him to finish, but Hercule just seemed to be lost searching for the right word.
“…going?” Aliyah offered, “where are we going? Was that what you were trying to ask?” Aliyah tried to help him along, noticing the trouble the handsome young man was having with his thoughts. Hercule nodded, being half led and half drug by Aliyah down the right path to follow Regal. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but what Aliyah said sounded right. He noted here in this light that she did appear older than he first assumed. Even with her black hair in a ponytail, so as to keep it from her face, and wearing a wide-brimmed brown hat that shadowed her entire face. She also wore a man’s long brown overcoat that fell to her knees, making her appear shorter than she actually was. Still, Hercule thought she looked a good bit older than the fifteen year old for which he had mistaken her.
“You know, this light adds considerable age to you.” Hercule meant it as a compliment, or perhaps just an observation out loud, but it came out wrong. He sort of stumbled over the words and Aliyah laughed softly at the craziness of this strange man.
“Your brother was right, they really did something to your head.” She chuckled softly, keeping her tone low and quiet. “But I think most people have that problem.” Aliyah smiled brightly as they passed out of the enclosed cobble tunnel and into a half exposed canopy corridor that skirted a courtyard of the city with booths and stalls of vendors.
“Most people don’t finish sentences?” Hercule scrunched his face and looked strangely at Aliyah, she thought he was making fun and playing dumb and played along.
“Oh, for sure. Heh. It’s a good thing we’re not most people, right?” She jokingly posed the question not expecting an answer and impulsively rubbed Hercule’s shoulder as a mother would to console a child. It was an innocent enough action, but for some reason it calmed Hercule and terrified him at the same time. “Take a left into the market up her, Rey.” Aliyah said quietly up to Regal who nodded in acknowledgement and took a left at the next opportunity to do so. This new turn on the path led the three of them from the enclosed tunnel, through a stone arch, and suddenly thrust them into a crowd of people in a busy marketplace.
So this was the plan? Hercule thought it through in his mind. We sneak through the water tunnel and then once we’re passed the wall and guards we lose ourselves in the crowds. Not a bad plan. Provided they did not lose each other in the crowd. Regal appeared to know where he was heading and nodded at Aliyah before heading off into the crowd alone. Aliyah looked at Hercule.
“You ready?” She paused and they both took a deep breath. Aliyah reached out and took Hercule’s hand, smiling at the thrill of the moment. “Let’s go.” Holding tightly to her hand, Hercule followed hard beside Aliyah as the two of them weaved in and out of unwary peasants and tradesman conducting normal business on an average day at the market: none of them aware of the wanted fugitive in their midsts.
They passed through the many blurred faces in a whirlwind rush. It seemed to Hercule like he was flying through a dream, everyone, everything that passed by was as a mirage. He was led and simply followed mechanically behind the arm of Aliyah who was an expert at navigating the crowd. After several minutes Aliyah turned off the main walkway where everyone seemed to be swimming huddled like fish in a net, and came to a door. Knocking three times long and once short on the wooden door evoke a creaking noise and the door opening inward on a spacious room.
“What took you so long?” Regal said gleefully, lounging on a chair in the living space by a table set with the meal, prepared and waiting for the arrival of the smuggler guests.
“You nearly forgot something, we had to go back and fetch it for you.” Aliyah said seriously.
“Wait-, really?” Regal rose from his chair abruptly. “What did I forget?” He began patting his pockets and places of concealment within his clothes to check for what might be absent.
“You’re humility.” Aliyah said with a laugh as she took her coat off and threw it at Regal who stood dumbly, having fallen for her joke. The coat fell off his face and onto the floor. Regal bursts into laughter along with Aliyah and retrieved her coat from the floor to drape it over a chair and offer her a seat.
“Welcome home, master smuggler.” Regal quipped as he took his own seat again, then noticed his brother standing statue-like at the door still. “Hercule, don’t just stand there. Come in.” Regal called, Hercule thought he sounded more flamboyant and authoritative now than he had when it was just himself and Regal. Hercule blamed this on the woman, Aliyah. The woman took of her huge hat and set it on the table then unbound her ponytail to allow her medium-length black hair to fall about her face. Hercule thought she looked much older… and better this way: more woman-like. Something about the oversized brown coat and hat being absent from her appearance added ten years to her age.
Hercule slowly walked into the room, taking to thought to remove his coat. He stumbled, unsure of himself in his new surroundings with these new people, (though they weren’t new at all, simply new to his mind). Meanwhile Aliyah and Regal conversed as old friends paying the slightly insane Hercule. Maybe things were better this way. If he was going mad, he’d rather not be an inconvenience or a burden about it. The only thing that bothered him was that he was okay with this. Perhaps his mind was too damage to protest, or perhaps he had not the mental strength to fight this battle for sanity. Whatever the reason, he was not okay with being okay with going crazy. He was not crazy! He would not be.
As Aliyah and Regal laughed together about unrelated nonsense, the laughter echoed in Hercule’s broken mind as if it was the whole world mocking him. He hated being mocked. He hated bullies. The world was a bully. Regal was a bully. Nobody could make fun of him! Hercule was not a pawn in everyone else’s game. He was strong: the strongest. His father had always said he was the strongest. He would show them. He would show them all. They would see. Just wait, they would all see.