Twenty-three years before the crippling of Crown Prince James III
He was fourteen and she was probably aged about the same, give or take a few years. It had been an hour since he'd met her.
He hated her already.
She scowled behind him and likely shared the sentiment as they scampered up the hillside in a desperate attempt to escape the roaring mob that seemed to be growing perpetually larger and coming ever-closer. Gabriel would have liked to say that it was all her fault he was in this situation, though it was his careless nicking ofwhat was it? A chicken that started the first old woman running, but how was he supposed to know that she'd stumble and fall and everyone else would think he'd assaulted her?
He hadn't. He'd taken the chicken, snapped its neck and run, because he hadn't eaten meat in weeks and he was starting to feel the affects on his already weak limbs.
This is what happens, he thought. This is what happens when you live like that too long, and tried to hide his exhaustion from the sprinting, unnaturally in shape woman with her dress hiked up beside him.
They stumbled up the hill, both barefoot for she hadn't any shoes for running and he hadn't need for any shoes. Up the hill, over it and nearly tumbling down the other side, they ran.
Gabriel snatched her wrist so quickly it nearly sent the both of them onto their faces. They managed to stay upright. He tugged her sharply left, to a small grove of trees and bushes. She tried to pull away, but she was tiring as well and they were scampering too quickly for her to really throw her weight, so with the little bit of strength he had Gabriel held on and led her.
They fell into the bushes more than anything else. When Gabriel turned sharply his back hit a thin tree. Her knees buckled and she collapsed, but she almost immediately tried to get up again. He saw her face clearly once more in that moment and he quickly looked away.
His hands went to his pouch, pulling a fistful of seeds out, scattering some of them on the soil around them. Then his own knees gave out, and he stumbled down. He planted his hands firmly where he fell, squeezed his eyes shut, and held what little breath he had left in his raw lungs.
For a moment nothing happened, and he heard the girl scrambling to her feet again and urging him, "Get up, get up, they're going to get us!"
He kept his hands firmly in the earth.
He'd done it before on command. Many times. He'd wrapped sapling roots around the canes when he was twelve, he made plants bloom in a fraction of the time they needed, and just a few months prior he'd wreaked havoc in Wizer's study in a fit. He'd done it quickly, even. He just wanted to do it now, a few bushes were all he needed
The girl tugged on his shoulder impatiently, asking if he wanted to be tied up and drowned for petty theft like a dog.
Of course he didn't want that.
He reached as deep into the earth as he could, lungs burning and eyes beginning to water; his seeds resisted, but he found a grip below the soil, a hold. A hold he couldn't feel in his palm but could feel somewhere like thread winding through his fingers and he tugged at it desperately, inhaling so suddenly that his lungs couldn't take it and he nearly collapsed again. His grip on the earth and the roots far beneath it held firm.
Slowly, twisting and tangled stems popped up from between the grass. Then, more quickly, leaves appeared, grew larger and taller and faster, faster, the shrub grew over his head and wrapped around him like a cocoon, sheltering them from sight.
The girl was still beside him for some reason. Instead of running on her own, she'd curled in on herself and was hiding behind the newly growing bushes with him.
By the time the bushes were tall enough to obscure them from view, Gabriel was lightheaded and wobbled from side to side. She wrapped an arm around him and held him so he wouldn't fall through the shroud, slid a hand over his mouth to mask his breathing. Her cloak was green and connected to sleeves, and wrapped around him with her arm. Her fingers smelled like sweat.
Not a minute later, footsteps thundered down the hill. There were shouts and curses.
He still wasn't sure how stealing a chicken had escalated so far, but rested against the girl's warm shoulder and pulled himself back to the surface. Soon, the uneven din of feet and voices moved on to search farther down the way and he was still curled against the girl's shoulder, eyes closed and trying to breathe through her hand.
It felt like a long time passed, but eventually, there was quiet. Her hand was removed, her shoulder too, and she once again insistently tugged on his arm.
"Get up," the girl said. "Get up, what kind of weak little runt are you?"
"I'm tried," he said slowly, his breath having finally began to catch up to him, and wondered how much the girl knew about magic and that a bush that quickly was rather good work at his age when he was already so tired, if Gabriel said so himself. Instead, he said, "I just saved your life. Can I be tired yet?"
"No," she said, and tugged again. "Because they'll be coming back around once they realize we're not off north. We have to move now."
"We," she said.
"I don't know you."
"You fell through my roof; it was a pleasant introduction, we had a cup of tea and decided to run away together because the few people accusing you of killing an old lady turned into this whole moronic town thinking you were my familiar out to kill them all," she snarled, "Now. Will. You. Come!"
With a final jerk, Gabriel was dragged onto his feet again. His knees felt weak and he nearly fell over even as he was righted. He'd been walking for months but the strength he'd built up in him was being eaten away day by day, and he wasn't entirely sure how to tell her he'd be near comatose if she hung around long enough, because from what he'd seen she was insane and hideous and would probably follow him just to murder him if she found out, and the bush the bush hadn't wanted to grow, it wasn't its proper season or timing and the water had been scarce and it would probably die in a week, but it had just made him so tired.
"No," he said, managing to remain standing uneasily. "I helped you out of the town. That's what you wanted. Now point me south and let's say goodbye, because I don't want to look at your ugly face anymore."
He'd intended it to be a biting insult and surely enough people had insulted her very ugly face before then, so by all rights it should have hit a chord but the girl just raked her twisting red hair down over the left part of her face once more, took him by the arm, and begin dragging him out of the grove and into the open field again. Across the field, passed scant trees slowly changing their colors wearily in a way that made struggling against her grip even more difficult as he saw them.
He clawed her wrists, writhed in her grip and dug his heels into the earth. She didn't let him go. He was too tired and sore and lacked any muscle to make her stop pulling him along.
"Where are you taking me?" he hissed after several minutes of struggle proved fruitless. He hated fruitless struggle. More than anything.
"Ocean," she said, "If you make it that long. Because if we run into the townspeople again, I'm going to throw you at them while I run away. And if I'm caught again, at least I'll be safe in the comfort that you're going to die a miserable death like the little ass you are."
She was a good five inches taller then he was and even when he began to shout and struggle, she held on, dragging him Southwest.
She dragged him all the way southwest to the sea.
For some reason, he didn't hobble away on weakening knees during the night, and for some reason, she didn't scream each morning when he woke cradled by grass and roots.
She knew his name, but didn't call him anything in particular. Instead, she called him 'runt' or 'hey, you,' or just gave him a sidelong look that he just wanted to hurt her for. He called her names. He called her Assface, Ape, Bitch, Bitchface, Blotty, Mauled, Whore, Slut, and any other insult he could think of at the time. He made up several new words for the simple sake of giving her a more appropriate nickname.
Her real name was Margaret Osterwitz.
Margaret Burnt-Her-Cloak-When-They-Reached-The-Shore, Mad-Girl, Bad-Girl, Assface, Ape, Bitch, What-Do-You-Mean-"Because-You-Can?" , Don't-You-Ever-Leave-Me Osterwitz.
But everyone everyone who wasn't Gabriel, at leastjust called her 'Maggie.'