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Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Lena sat at a table in the back corner of a tavern, wrapped in a muddy brown cloak that concealed her identity. This kingdom was corrupt, only accepting murderers, brigands, and pirates into their ranks. It was the only kingdom in the land that did such a thing. The neighboring kingdoms were not willing to stand up to it because of the number of allies they had. It was, by far, the largest kingdom of them all.
The rules were corrupt. If one was to commit an act of kindness or nobleness, they would be condemned. Unfortunately for Lena, that was exactly what she had done.
Growing up, she could not see the benefactor of being cruel and selfish. All it did was create rivalries and enemies. Her family did not have friends. No families did. It was the policy. After a while, her own parents began to push her away. She wondered how the kingdom had managed to survive on these laws and policies.
Shortly after she left home and began her life, Lena had made a big mistake. One day, while she was walking to the market and avoiding riots, she saw an old woman begging for food. She saw a group of people pass by the woman, shoving and kicking her as they went past. The woman fell to the ground. She lay there for a few moments, then crawled over to the nearest building and curled up into a ball.
When Lena returned from the market, the woman was still curled up next to the building, but this time the sound of weeping was heard. Lena looked to the woman and back at her basket of fruits she had recently bought. It wouldn't hurt if she...
She walked over to the woman, bent down, and put a hand on her shoulder. The woman flinched and looked up. She was scared.
"Hey," Lena said soothingly. "Take this." She handed the woman an apple. The woman took it reluctantly. This never happened here. Nobody ever did this. It was forbidden. She looked back at Lena, and Lena gave her an encouraging smile.
Lena stood up straight and darted around. Behind her, a few meters away, she saw a guard wearing a bright red surcoat. He brandished his spear at her. "You have Violated the laws!" he said. "Come with me!"
Lena didn't know what to do. She turned her head back to where the woman was. She was gone. It was a trick. These beggars were placed throughout the towns to test the ruthlessness of the townspeople. That woman didn't even need food. She was just pretending she did. Lena wouldn't allow herself to be captured. She would be confined to the dungeons for life. There was only one choice open to her, and that was to run.
She sprinted through the streets, shoving people out of the way as she ran, her long blonde hair flowing behind her. She didn't know where she was going. All she knew was that she didn't want to waste her life rotting in a cellar.
Today, several towns away from her encounter, she was considering her options in the tavern. She had very few options. She could turn herself in, which was a highly unattractive option, or she could possibly return to her parents for help, which was also a very bad idea. Her parents didn't love her. Nobody could love in this land. It was the policy.
She could try to flee to another kingdom. The only problem with that was that the borders were heavily guarded, and the kingdom was lined with a wall, keeping intruders out and convicts in. She could attempt an escape, but the chances of her succeeding were critically low.
All in all, her options were very limited and unattractive. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Suddenly, a man, wrapped in a green cloak similar to Lena's brown one, sat down at her table. They sat in silence for a few moments, until the man spoke. "I know who you are, Lena." His voice was intimidating, but it seemed young, about Lena's age.
Lena was taken aback. Nobody had recognized her in the past month. "What? How?"
"That is not important. What is important is what I'm going to offer you. You're a convict, and you have limited options. I can help you cross the border wall."
Lena thought for a moment. "Who are you, and why do you want to help me."
"I am a fellow convict. Name's Roy. And let's just say that I've invested in your future."
She considered this. "Ok, but what's in it for you?"
The man sighed. "Questions, questions, questions. Do you want out of here or not?"
"Yes! I do! It's just that I'm suspicious."
"Well let me prove myself to you, miss do-not-trust-anyone. Follow me."
Roy stood up and headed towards the door. Lena followed reluctantly. When she opened the door and the cool night air bit into her skin, she shivered and looked around. He was gone. She walked down the deserted street. Suddenly, a hand darted out of an alleyway nearby and grabbed her arm, pulling her into the shadows.
It was Roy. "I have a plan," he said in a lowered tone.
Lena thought for a moment. She was reluctant to trust this man, but he made crossing the wall an entirely different matter. It was now the most attractive option. Plus, if something were to go wrong, she would end up in the same place she would have if she had decided to pick a different option: In the castle dungeons.
"Tell me all about it," Lena said.