It was dark, cold, and the rain dripping through the rotten roof was impossible to escape. Soaked to the skin, the back of her head stinging where the market trader had struck, she sat shivering and sobbing. She was calmer than an hour before, but still a mess.
The strangers busied themselves around her. They were equally drenched, the shower having caught them all by surprise, but they were far more suitably attired for the weather. The man with the mop of curly hair had given up his jacket, and it had helped, but it was not enough to stop her incessant shaking. She wanted to stop, was willing herself to stop, and there were moments when she seemed to have the worst of it contained, but then the pain in her head would bring back the ordeal and every part of her would start to shake again.
“It’s all in your mind,” a kindly voice said, “try to think yourself warm.”
It was the man with curly hair, smiling down. The smile made her feel safe. He was not the one who had wrenched her from the grip of the trader, but he was the one who had led her away from trouble.
“It’s not warm though, is it? It’s freezing,” she breathed, her voice as shaky as the rest of her. But the chill was only part of her problem, the vicious blow had taken her by surprise and rocked her to the core. Incredibly, she had not lost consciousness, but she was groggy and still felt like she might.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
A stronger version of her might have huffed at the question, but this poor soul could barely manage a whimper in response. Street life had taken its toll. Months of living hand to mouth, stealing, begging, scavenging behind this city’s less illustrious eateries, had sapped her. She was weak, she was hungry, and she was scared.
“Well, I reckon the idiot back there will think twice before attacking someone again,” the curly haired man said. “It will be a good while before he can stand on that leg.”
The sucking sound of the knife plunging into her assailant’s thigh stayed fresh in her memory. Even in the busy market, with heavy rain smashing on corrugated roofs, she had heard it, and it had turned her stomach. Amongst those now milling around, she could see the man who had wielded that weapon. He had stabbed the trader with such venom, barely flinching as he rammed the blade home. There was no doubt he had saved the young woman from a worse beating, but she was still stunned by his brutality. Others in this gang had jeered and laughed as the trader had recoiled, screaming. As she now surveyed the group, they all bore the hallmarks of criminals. They were not the desperate, petty kind like herself, these were armed and hardcore.
“When did you last eat?” the man who had given her the jacket asked. It was her desperate attempts to steal a meal that had resulted in the whack around the head and had cost the trader the nasty wound. In the chaotic moments since, she had forgotten just how hungry she was.
“Yesterday,” she said. It was a lie; she had not eaten in two days.
“I’ll get you something shortly,” he said. This stranger’s manner reminded her of her father, the last man who had shown her any kindness. It was such a long time since she had seen him.
A ‘thank-you’ teetered on her lips, but the words would not come out. They were struggling to break through the shivers. Perhaps if there had been more conviction to her gratitude, she would have found a way to speak, but as it was, she was too wrapped up in fear. What kind of maniac could stab a man without flinching? What kind of people were these? Thugs came in many shapes and sizes; this group was no better than the ones who had taken her parents.
This one seemed different to the others though. Back in the market, whilst his friends had postured and jeered, he had shown no such elation, coolly offering her a reassuring arm up. Calm throughout, his eyes had been everywhere, politely dipping and nodding to onlookers as he hurried the young woman away. And whilst his associates paraded their weaponry as intimidating badges of power, if he was armed, it was hidden.
“What’s your name?” he enquired.
For six months she had been on the streets, living off her wits and guile. Now, when asked her name, she had to dig back through all those days, through all the thieving, the running, the hiding. There was another place back there, a place with love and happiness. It was a place of safety and family too. Back there she had a name, one she had not used since.
Her blank expression prompted him to ask again.
“Your name? I presume you have one?”
“Kayla,” she said, “Kayla McGann.”
The curly haired stranger beamed. This was not her happy place and he was not her father, but the smile made things seem a little better.
“Well, Kayla,” he said, patting her knee. “There are far too many street-urchins in this town, far too many the Union have turned their backs on, but you are a lucky one. The boss has decided we will look after you. I’ll find you some food and dry clothes.”
With that, he stood. Before going to retrieve the promised items, he paused, casting down one more reassuring smile. “Oh, and it’s only right I share my name too,” he said, “I am Jed Luca, and I am going to make sure you are safe.”
The passage above is the opening to Episode 4: Broken Bottle. It features the first meeting between two of the main characters in the Hadrian’s Gate series. Hopefully, it has wet your appetite without providing too many spoilers! If you enjoyed, why not give the books a go? Download Episode 1: The Cairo Accord, NOW!
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