First Taste of Freedom
by Katelynn Persons
Early 2011 NEBADOR Writing Contest, second place
This story takes place when Miko and Neti are buying pouches in the marketplace and the nearby streets of Rumble Town in NEBADOR Book One: The Test.
Miko and Neti stepped into Rumble Town for the first time on their own, with nothing but each other and the money pouch Ilika had given them with two small silver and eight copper pieces inside.
"Where do we go?" handsome Miko asked uncertainly as he stared uneasily into the busy streets of Rumble Town.
Neti looked around, more determined than frightened. "Well," she said, thinking, "Ilika said we need to do some of the shopping for the group. We need money pouches, enough for all eight of us, so we need to find somewhere that sells them, preferably somewhere close."
Miko looked at Neti with shifting eyes. "What if we get lost?"
"We won't," the pretty girl said as she took her love's hand. "Trust me."
He nodded as he looked timidly down the street, and followed Neti's lead into the crowd, in hopes of completing their first task.
"Look!" Neti exclaimed as she pointed to a group of large, rich-looking men on horses coming toward them.
Miko watched the men approach as his stomach tightened. "Our old slave masters," he whispered under his breath.
They stood frozen for a few moments of panic before Neti took Miko's hand and led him into the crowd, going away from the terrible men. Miko stopped in his tracks.
"No, Neti!" he said firmly.
She turned around, almost running into him. "What are you doing?" she asked with a hiss.
Miko took her hands in his as he looked into her startled eyes. "Neti, we aren't slaves anymore, there's nothing to be afraid of! Ilika said to treat everyone we come across with respect, so we can't run from them. We have to continue what we're doing, or they'll think we're acting suspiciously."
Neti looked at him anxiously, but gave him a small nod of understanding.
He smiled and touched her cheek gently. "Come on, there's a leather wagon over there, maybe they'll have what we need."
Without a word of disagreement, Neti followed Miko to a small wagon filled with different leather goods. Miko reached down to make sure the coin pouch was still on his belt as he and Neti looked around the wagon with eager eyes.
"There!" Neti said with excitement as she rushed to the other end of the cart, picking up a brown coin pouch off the wagon. "How much for this?" she asked the leather man as Miko scurried to her side.
The leather man turned to face the pretty girl, and saw the nervous boy standing beside her. With a pause for thought, he responded, "One copper piece and it's yours."
Neti smiled at Miko as he untied his pouch and dug out a copper piece, handing it to the man.
"Thank you very much!" he called back at the man as he followed Neti into the crowd.
"Those sweet biscuits smell so good!" Miko said as they ambled past the baked-goods cart.
"I know," Neti said slowly, "but Ilika might be mad if we spend his money on treats. We have to find money pouches for the rest of us."
"You're right," Miko said slowly with disappointment.
"One copper for three biscuits!" the man said to Neti and Miko as they passed.
"Really?" Miko said, then received a disapproving glance from Neti. "I mean, no thank you."
Neti smiled and took his hand again, leading him past the lingering aroma of sweets.
They passed one of the bread carts, stocked with good-smelling breads and rolls, but with their stomachs still full from breakfast, it wasn't as hard to pass them up as the sweets had been.
"Hey, Neti," Miko began as they continued walking, "what do you think of Ilika so far?"
"Ilika?" she responded, her eyes examining the ground in front of her. "He's alright, I guess. I don't really understand the point of all this, though."
"Me neither," Miko said, shaking his head, "I was just curious. He seems so different from the rest of us. I don't get why he's treating us this way. For all he knows, we could be escaping right now."
"I know, it's weird, but I'm not going to complain. He bought us our freedom. He said that we could leave whenever we wanted and he wouldn't try to stop us."
"But he trusts us with his money. Why would he do that if we're free to walk away?" Miko asked, noticing Neti's thoughtful expression as she pondered the question.
"I don't know. He's just a very trusting person, I guess. I just hope he's not so blind that he trusts Kodi with his money."
"Or anything, for that matter," Miko said with a smile.
Neti smiled back and kissed her man.
"Alright," she said, looking around, "where would we find more money pouches? I don't remember."
Miko looked around. "What about that little shop over there?" Miko said as he looked at Neti for approval before heading that way.
Inside, they found exactly what they needed, money pouches of all different colors and designs.
"These are perfect!" Neti said with excitement, picking one up. "The different colors will make it easy to tell them apart if they get mixed up!"
"Right!" Miko said as he chose two colors. "How many more do we need?"
Neti thought for a moment. "Well, if we need eight, and we have one ... that's eight minus one."
Miko put down the pouches and subtracted slowly on his fingers. "Seven pouches!" he stated as he picked up a few more. When they had all they needed, they joyfully approached the shopkeeper.
"We'd like to buy these, please," Neti said in her most polite voice, setting the seven pouches in front of the shopkeeper.
"Alright," said the large man slowly, "that'll be seven coppers."
Neti looked eagerly at Miko as he slowly counted out his coppers from the money pouch.
"Seven coppers," Miko said, handing them to the shopkeeper.
"Thank ya kindly," said the man. "Have a good day now!"
Neti and Miko smiled as they carried their new merchandise away from the counter. Suddenly they heard the large old man holler at them. "Hey you kids! Get back here with them money pouches!"
They stopped in their tracks. Their skin became cold and pale as they turned to face the man, who approached them and took the pouches from their hands.
"Trying to steal one of my pouches?" the man quickly accused. "Do you know what the penalty is for stealing?"
"We ... we didn't steal anything," Neti said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
"You've already been caught, stop lying!" the man said as he went back to the counter and set the pouches in a row. "You see these right here? You bought seven pouches from me, yes?"
"That's right ..." Miko replied cautiously.
"Then would you mind counting how many of them are lying on this counter?"
Neti, lacking good counting skills, turned to Miko in fright, who slowly approached the counter. He counted out loud, one by one.
"There are eight pouches here," Miko said softly, "but we had already bought one from another place."
"You expect me to believe that crud? Get out of here, and don't you two dare come back!"
"No, honestly!" Neti said, fighting back tears. "We would never steal from you! Please believe us ..."
"Prove your innocence!" the man said firmly.
Neti, with determination written on her face, approached the counter and picked up the money pouch from the cart. "See this one? It's different from all of these you sell. The ones we bought from you have different colors and patterns, so there's no way we could have stolen this one if you don't sell them!"
The man examined the pouches with careful eyes before looking back at Neti, trying to hide her trembling. He sighed and handed the pouches back to them. "My apologies," he said in a deep, rough voice. "Be careful, and don't bring things like that into other stores or you'll get yourself in some real trouble, do you hear me?"
"Yes, sir," Neti and Miko said at once as they picked up the pouches and hurried out of the shop.
They stopped and sat on a street corner, setting the pouches next to them. Neti broke into tears.
"Oh, Neti," Miko said, wrapping his arms around the pretty girl, "there's no reason to cry, we didn't do anything wrong!"
"I know," Neti said between sobs, "but we could have let Ilika down! What if the shopkeeper didn't believe us?"
"Shh," Miko coaxed, "no reason to talk like that. Your quick thinking got us out of there, and that's what counts." He wiped the tears quietly from her face as she calmed down. Then he kissed her forehead before saying, "Let's get back to Ilika before he thinks something's wrong."
Neti nodded and thanked him softly, but Miko only smiled and took her hand as they stood up, each of them carrying a few of the pouches.
Neti and Miko walked side by side the entire way back to the inn, making small talk about their friends, and about Ilika.
"This life is a lot better than the one we had, that's for sure," Miko said with a soft smile.
"Yeah ... it's sure different."
Miko smirked as he thoughtfully said, "Remember that time where you, me, and Kibi honestly thought we could escape?"
"Yeah," Neti said dryly. "I do."
"Doesn't seem so crazy now!" Miko declared.
Neti looked down and shuffled her feet, something she hadn't done before.
"I hit a nerve ..." Miko began softly. "What is it?"
Neti shook her head quickly. "It's nothing, just remembering."
"Remembering what?" Miko questioned with raised eyebrows.
Neti stopped and put her hand on Miko's shoulder.
He turned around to face his girl. Seeing her seriousness, he whispered, "What is it?"
"Miko," Neti said softly, "do ... do you still have feelings for her?"
The handsome boy's face flushed, as he immediately knew she was speaking of Kibi.
Neti looked at him anxiously. "Well?"
"No ... no, Neti ... not at all." He wrapped his arms around her. "It's just me and you, I promise. I care about her, but she's a close friend, nothing more. She will never be anything more, no matter what."
"Tell me this much," Neti said, fighting back tears, "tell me that you've never actually loved her."
"I swear to you, Neti," Miko said softly.
Neti gently wiped the tears from her face.
Miko leaned in to kiss her. "You're my girl, Neti, and you always will be. No need to worry about silly things like that, alright?" he said tenderly.
Miko kissed her again. "Let's head back, and let other people have a chance to go out, okay?"
"Okay," Neti said as she took her man's arm, and wandered back through the streets of Rumble Town, not knowing when she'd get another moment alone with Miko.