New Excerpt for In the Presence of the King

From chapter two, titled: Thieves

To read the entire first chapter click here.

Running. Why am I always running? Asaph asked himself, as he was, at that moment, running through another small village in the Golden Kingdom. Running closely behind were his two best friends, Cal-Lin and Li-Gémìng. When the three of them were together, they would always end up running from something. This time, it was on the soft reddish-brown dirt roads of Skara. A small yet bustling town, Skara was flanked on two sides by the Winding River, which ran north to south in the western region of the Kingdom. Skara was bigger than Asaph’s home village of Bloodraven and had more people either living there or coming to do business in it. The town had a large windmill on the east side, along the river, which towered over the village’s wood-and-stone edifices. The town’s buildings weren’t built in a tight cluster but spread out a little, leaving room for open public greens where traveling merchants, theatrical troupes or scholars might occasionally gather a crowd. 

“I can’t remember where we are!” Asaph shouted back to his friends as they rounded a corner and almost smacked into a mother and her young son going about their day. Asaph spun around the two and continued running. 

“This village gets bigger every time we come here. It’s hard to keep track,” Cal-Lin shouted back. He tried to dodge a tawny-skinned, white-haired old man selling onions from a wheelbarrow, only to find himself upside-down in another wheelbarrow full of squash being watched over by a grey-haired woman in ragged clothes. 

Li-Gémìng stopped hard on his heels and jogged over to his upside-down friend. He kicked the wheelbarrow over, spilling Cal-Lin and the squash out into the street. Cal-Lin jumped up and dusted off his tunic. 

“I just got this!” Cal-Lin complained, staring down at the tunic. 

“Technically, you stole it,” Asaph countered, yelling back at them as he continued forward. 

Cal-Lin looked up at the old squash seller. “Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to spill your squash. Honest. To make it up to you, I won’t steal any.” He let out an awkward laugh. The old lady just stared at him, tears welling up in her eyes. “Well, sorry again. Bye,” Cal-Lin said with a half-smile before taking off. 

Li-Gémìng rolled his eyes. “Let’s go! To the right! We’ll go over the bridge, out of the village,” he shouted as he ran on through the maze of streets. Cal-Lin followed obediently. But Asaph had already veered off down another path, in the opposite direction of the bridge, and now found himself running alone.  

By the Gold! Really! They didn’t see me already turn the other way. Typical Li, Asaph thought, frustrated, when he realized they had gone the other way. He slid to a stop, nearly falling, and doubled back towards his two friends.  
Asaph could hear the angry shouts of village elders growing louder in the distance. People were coming out of their homes or looking out their windows to see what the commotion was about. Asaph knew the wrong turn had cost him most of his lead and left him visible to the pursuing mob. He sprinted faster, trying to make up the lost distance. If they could make it to the bridge and out of the village, Asaph figured, the village elders would probably give up following them and the trio could hide more easily in the forest on the other side of the river, at least until the furor died down. 

Cal-Lin, a stocky, dark-skinned teenager with curly black hair, had overtaken Li-Gémìng and was first to reach the narrow bridge, which swayed over the river alarmingly. He began to cross the rickety structure at a snail’s pace, wishing now that Li hadn’t taken that right turn. Li-Gémìng, out of breath and with beads of sweat forming on his pale face, made it to the bridge next. But as he stepped out onto it, he sensed it might not bear much more weight. He looked down below to the swift water of the Winding River. They were too high up to make falling into the water anything but risky. He quickly removed his foot from the bridge. 

“I’ll just wait until you make it across,” Li-Gémìng yelled to Cal-Lin, who was still creeping fearfully across. Looking back, Li-Gémìng spotted Asaph running towards them, with a mob of angry village elders, ten or twenty in number, quickly closing in behind him. “But you better hurry, Cal! Or we are going to finally get it,” Li-Gémìng yelled after his friend, leaning forward as far as he dared over one of the bridge posts.  

“You shut up back there. One false move and I die, and you don’t get an exit strategy,” Cal-Lin retorted. 

“You’re going so slow, I’m going to die either way!” 

After what felt like days, Cal-Lin finally reached the other side. Li-Gémìng, much more hurriedly, started across the old bridge, He was halfway when he heard a commotion behind him. He looked up ahead to see Cal-Lin’s eyes wide and mouth open, his body shaking as he stared back across the river. Li-Géming swung his head around and saw that the elders had grabbed Asaph just feet from the bridge and had him pinned, face down, on the ground. 

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