Bastion entered Kodran’s shop in late morning. It was busy with customers and streetlings but he didn’t see Riva as he paused just beyond the doorway to glance around. Kodran stood at the counter and spotted him, and smiled broadly. “Bastion-lad, it has been a long time since you were here last.”
Bastion smiled back, somewhat sheepishly. “I apologize for that, Kodran. The Palace has been keeping me busy. I understand that you have a streetling here, calls herself Riva?” He tried not to sound as hopeful as he felt.
Kodran nodded. “So you’re the one who saved our Songbird yesterday. I must thank you for that. She means a great deal to us.”
One of the children who sat near Bastion’s feet almost undid everything for them, or so they thought for a moment. He looked up at Bastion and grinned. “Songbird is our mother! Did you know that we have a mother now?”
Bastion crouched down to be closer to the child. “Do you now?”
He nodded. “She sings to us and she hugs us and she doesn’t let the bullies hurt us anymore.” Kodran felt a moment of panic, though he carefully controlled it. Children, he knew from experience, could blurt out the most awkward things. But the child had another secret to spill. “But she’s got a baby now. He’s really little and he cries a lot.”
Bastion blinked in surprise. Even more surprising was the twist in his stomach. “A baby?” Why did the thought cause such a reaction in him? Why would he care if a streetling girl had given birth to a streetling babe? Except, he remembered the way her eyes looked at him, the joy in them.
“Uh huh. She carries him everywhere. She looks more like a mother now than she did before.” The boy was oblivious to the effect his words were having.
Kodran hooked a finger towards the boy, catching his attention. Best interrupt this while the interrupting was good. “Why don’t you go get her?”
The boy scrambled to his feet and ran into the back rooms while Bastion got back on his feet. He turned back to Kodran. “She has a child?” He couldn’t quite suppress the strange wavering note in his voice.
Kodran was actually surprised at Bastion’s reaction. He tilted his head slightly. “A foundling. She seems quite taken with the babe and I haven’t found a home for him yet, so I chose to see how she would handle him. She’s got a better head on her shoulders than some twice her age.”
Bastion was astonished at the way his breathing eased. His stomach gradually untwisted. “So it seems to be working out?”
Kodran shrugged. “She doesn’t belong on the streets. Near them, yes. On them, I don’t know. I thought about finding her work as a nursemaid or a nanny, but I don’t think she’d like taking care of other people’s children for very long. I’m probably going to have to find her a husband soon and just let things go the way they will.”
Just then Riva appeared out of the back, with the little boy pulling on her hand. Her other arm was wrapped around a bundle of a baby, who had a lock of her hair clenched in his fist. The little boy pointed at Bastion. “See, I told you a Knight came to see you.”
Riva looked up and met Bastion’s eyes and turned bright red at the expression on his face. She looked down at the baby, who gurgled at her happily. The little boy dropped her hand and stood, looking proud at himself. Riva took the opportunity to gently extricate her hair from the baby’s grasp.
Bastion was dumbfounded. For a moment his mind gibbered at him frantically. She was a child. She was just a child. But she was a Traveler, and hadn’t his Princess told him that Travelers sometimes hid themselves as children? His Princess, oh God, his Princess… did he even have the right to think this way about a streetling when his Princess…? He briefly wished that this streetling could be his Princess and end all the confusion that he felt. He knew that Riva was no child, and his heart’s wish was white-hot. He wished that it were his child she held so tenderly.
Kodran looked from one to the other and just barely managed not to gloat at his success. “Ah, Riva-girl, we were just talking about you.”
She nodded, still afraid to meet Bastion’s eyes. “Kyle told me.” She forced herself to face Bastion. “You came, just like you promised, to see Alban.”
He nodded. He also wanted to see her, but he was afraid to tell her that. “Where is he?”
“He’s in the back. I’ll show you.” She nodded to Kodran, who nodded back with a decided twinkle in his eye, and then turned and led Bastion into the back rooms, to where Alban lay in a pain-filled doze.
The boy woke slightly as they entered, turning his head towards them. “Riva? Is that you?”
She knelt down next to him and took his hand in hers. “Yes, it’s me, Alban.”
“Mother, it hurts.”
Bastion could hear the tears in her voice. “I know, Alban. There’s someone here to might be able to help.” She looked up at him and he was struck again by the familiarity of her golden eyes. “Please, tell me that you can help him.”
He stepped around the pallet to kneel on Alban’s other side. “Let me see.” He put a hand out over the boy and hissed in sudden anger. “He’s enspelled.”
Riva blinked. “Can you banish it?”
He met her eyes. “Yes, but we would lose the ability to prove who did this, and without that proof, the ones responsible cannot be punished.”
Riva was silent for a moment as terrible anger crossed her face. “Banish it. Alban’s health is more important, and it isn’t like we don’t already know who is responsible.”
“But the King cannot punish them, legally there would be no grounds, and if you were to seek them out then you would be held in the wrong.”
“I know that. I also know that justice is not always found in a courtroom. Eventually they will choose the wrong victim and all this will come back to roost.”
He nodded slowly and gathered his own magical energies. It was always something of a surprise to him to be able to use magic. The spell that held Alban shattered beneath his hand and he was able to send healing energies in its place. After a moment he pulled his hand back and nodded to Riva. “It is done. He will heal.”
He watched tears fall down her face as she looked at the boy who was now sleeping peacefully. She nodded towards Bastion. “Thank you, Captain.”
She set the boy’s hand down gently and stood, and he did the same. He had to move quickly to reach the door before she did, but he opened it for her all the same, and she blinked in surprise, and then smiled. Once they were outside the room, he closed the door gently. “If you do not mind, I need to speak with you and Kodran privately, if possible.”
She looked up at him curiously and then nodded. “Alright. Let me get him.”
— — —
They stood in Kodran’s office. Bastion could see a simple table, with a few scattered pieces of paperwork on it, and a haversack in one corner, the edge of a scroll peeking out from the top of it.
Kodran looked at Bastion in curiosity. “What seems to be the matter, Bastion-lad?”
He sighed. Best to be blunt, he supposed. “Who is training the streetlings in combat?”
Both Riva and Kodran blinked in surprise. They glanced at each other for a moment and Kodran nodded slightly. Riva straightened. “That would be me, Captain. It started the day we found Alban. I do not want any streetling who is willing to learn left defenseless against bullies who would attack an unarmed child.”
He looked at her for a moment. “So it is for self-defense purposes only?”
She nodded. “And city defense. If an enemy army ever shows up at Castellan’s gates they would be hard pressed to defeat trained streetlings, who love their city as much as anyone.”
Bastion sighed. “Nobles are noticing, and they are afraid. Arming the streetlings… ”
Riva put a hand flat on the table. Her other arm still held the baby, who had fallen asleep. “No government worth supporting would fear an armed populace. Only tyrants and dictators. I have always believed in the right to keep and bear arms.”
Kodran looked from one to the other and realized that there were levels to this conversation that he wasn’t hearing.
Bastion met Riva’s eyes. “We the people…?”
“Precisely.” Her eyes narrowed. “Besides, we’re following the law. I asked before I started what was forbidden. No streetling is being given swords. I train them in bare handed techniques and in the use of sticks and clubs. Now, some of the stick moves are exactly like sword moves, but there is a greater variation possible with a walking stick.”
He sighed and let the tension fall from him. “Alright. Just, be careful. Some of the nobles are not noted for generous and merciful judgment.” He paused and then met her eyes. “For myself, Riva, I am with you in this endeavor. I wish someone had done this during my years on the streets.”
Her stance softened. “I understand, Captain. You have risen very high for a streetling.”
He nodded. “I would like the opportunity to talk with you, some time. I haven’t had that chance in a very long time. The chance to speak with someone else who understands what is meant by ‘we the people’ and ‘one nation, under God’.”
She smiled through the tears in her eyes. “I would enjoy that, Captain.”
He smiled back at her. “Please, call me Bastion. For what you are doing, you have earned the right to call another streetling by name.”
An awkward moment later Bastion took his leave to return to the Palace and Riva sank to the floor, her back against the wall. She smiled up at Kodran, the expression wavering slightly through the uncomfortable thump of her heart. “That went well, didn’t it?”
— — —
Bastion was able to speak privately with the King later in the afternoon, in the library. King Ainmire looked at him curiously. “Well, what did you discover?”
Bastion sighed. “It is another streetling who is training the streetlings. They are being trained in weaponless techniques and in the use of sticks and clubs only. Moreover, they are being trained for self-defense and to aid in city defense should the need arise.”
“A streetling?” The King blinked in surprise. “How is this possible?”
“She knows what she is doing.”
The King went suddenly still. “She?” He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Your golden-eyed streetling?”
Bastion looked at his King and then nodded slowly. He had forgotten for a moment how insightful his king could be some days. “Yes, my King. She trains them because of what happened to her friend, so that no other streetling will fall victim to them or their foul magics ever again.”
“What was wrong with the boy?”
“He was enspelled so that he wouldn’t heal. Banishing the spell destroyed all evidence of it. The ones who did that were taunting the streetlings. Punish us or save your friend. They chose to save their friend, and trust that such arrogance would lead the squires to choose the wrong victim one day.”
The King sighed. “I need to meet with this girl, this streetling. I need to see her with my own eyes, speak with her myself. Can you arrange that?”
Bastion nodded. “Yes, Majesty. I will arrange such a meeting.”