"Mr. Ayen, sir." Eyes the color of honey in the sun batted up at him. He just knew the little one had a favor to ask him. The last time she'd looked at him like that he'd ended up spending his good drinking money on candy floss, but he couldn't fault her for it.
"What is it, Lady Lil?" Ayen knelt down to her level. She giggled. Liluth loved it when he called her a lady.
"Well it's just that," she tangled her fingers together. "My mommy lives in the forest city down the road and I haven't been to visit her in a long time. Do you think you could take me?"
"Why doesn't your father take you? Or your older siblings?"
"Papa is sick. Tomlin and Asyoru and Pells all work. And Tor and Mal aren't old enough to escort me." The little elf looked down at the dirt. Ayen never could tell if she was truly so terribly sad or if she was very good at play acting. Though, if she missed her mother why wouldn't she be sad?
Ayen sighed. "That sounds very difficult, Lady Lil. If it's alright with your father then I shall escort you."
"Really?" Her face brightened, eyes wide with joy. "Thank you, sir!" She flung her tiny arms around him as he chuckled.
Ayen gave her a tight squeeze. "Of course, dear friend. Go and check with your father and get yourself ready. We'll leave soon."
"Yay!" The little one ran inside and left Ayen smiling in the district's square. She came back not long after with a bag strung over her shoulder.
"To Silverhallow then?" Ayen offered his hand to the child. She nodded with a smile. Her little fingers wrapped around his.
They passed through town with Ayen shooting dangerous looks at any of the unsavory types who looked their way. Most likely they were curious as to why Ayen had a child with him, but he wouldn't have them look twice at her. There was no telling what any of them were involved in.
The road from West Catoig to Silverhallow was well traveled. There were ruts and pits set into the dirt from carts and heavy feet. They passed any number of tired looking merchants. Many of them were accompanied by swordsmen or archers. People who could defend against the many beasts in the forest between the two towns. Ayen wasn't terribly concerned. Perhaps the forest wasn't as safe as he had once thought, but it was safe enough if you were careful.
The pair walked hand and hand as they went into the forest. The dense tree branches blocked much of the light casting the road into a false evening. Sweet Liluth was obvious to the obvious danger the forest proposed. So much so that Ayen wondered if she had ever passed through this forest at all.
"How often do you visit your mother, Lil?" he asked her.
"Oh, every so often. Before papa got sick, we used to travel together, but I always fell asleep in the cart." Chipper and cheerful, Lil was clearly enjoying the walk. She looked around at the plants and trees, eyes moving towards the sounds of birds.
"So you've never seen anything scary in here?"
Lil giggled. "Are you scared, Mr. Ayen? I'll protect you."
He couldn't help but smile. "I'm sure you could, but so we're clear if anything or anyone tries to harm us, you let me do the protecting alright?"
"You think I can't do it," she pouted, poking out her bottom lip.
"It's not that," Ayen assured her. "It's just that if your papa found out that I let you fight a monster he might not let me escort you through the forest anymore."
She seemed to think it over. "You're right. Papa doesn't like scary things. He tells me to run away if I ever see anything scary."
"That's exactly what you should do."
They carried on down the road with Liluth waving at every passing traveler. Ayen laughed as the gruffest of swordsmen each gave the child a friendly wave. During the day, the road seemed safe enough or perhaps there were simply enough travelers moving along to keep the monsters in their dens. They were almost to Silverhallow when the sound of splashing water caught their ears and Liluth slipped from his hand. The child went running into the trees.
"Liluth, don't run off!" Ayen called after her. He caught up to her quickly, but he found her staring wide eyed at a giggling pair of water nymphs. They stood waving, knee deep in the river.
"Oh, they're beautiful," Liluth whispered.
"I suppose," he said. Not that he was terribly impressed with their scaly skin or their leaf tangled hair, the odd shape of their ears. Not that he was one to talk about odd ears. They never bothered to wear clothes like civilized folk, either.
"Hello, sweets," a nymph purred to the child. "What's your name?"
"None of your business," Ayen cut her off. Liluth pouted but he scooped her up in his arms. "There will be no children for you today, thank you. Have a lovely morning."
The pair hissed their displeasure at his back as he carried Lil away. They made it back to the road where he set her down. She crossed her arms and puffed out her cheeks.
"I only wanted to say hello to them," she grumbled. She turned her angry gaze down to the dirt.
Ayen took a breath. The last thing he wanted was to upset her, but she couldn't go running up to strange creatures all she liked either. "Nymphs are fae creatures and the fae are well known for well," he looked at her wide eyed and hanging on his every word. "Well they eat children, Lil."
She gasped. A little hand covered her mouth. At least she understood the danger even if it felt rotten to scare her.
"Sometimes they don't eat them, but they do carry them off and they aren't ever seen again. I don't think you would like either of those things."
"No," she shook her head, clearly very uncomfortable now.
"It's alright," he assured her. "The fae are lovely to look at, just don't get too close and don't talk to them and don't ever give them your name."
"That's a lot of rules." The child rolled her eyes. He wasn't a big fan of rules himself so he understood the feeling.
Ayen took her hand and they started again down the road. "Rules keep children safe."
"Don't adults have rules, too?"
"Yes, but those rules are mostly about money."
"And murder," she said.
"Yes," he chuckled. "And murder. It isn't very nice to kill people."
"Have you ever killed anyone?"
"Oh, certainly not," he lied. Not that he enjoyed killing. It was something he avoided at all costs nowadays, but there was a time when things had been different. There had been a time when Ayen fought for his life, for the lives of others, for what he believed in his heart to be right, but that had been in another life.
Ayen Fenfir is no common elf, but that won't stop him from pretending to be one as he tries to hide from his past. Life as a criminal isn't easy, but when Ayen sees the bounty for turning in an assassin, known as 'The Angel', he finds himself caught between romance and a chance to retire from his life of crime. 'Don't try your luck in West Catoig' is what they always say, but Ayen has yet to discover just how unlucky West Catoig is for its more humble citizens.