Pyter ran through the cobblestone streets and safely into a deserted alleyway. He surveyed the path behind him to make sure he wasn’t followed then made certain he had an open route of escape should he need one. Satisfied he was alone, and would be for a time, he sat on a pile of trash and got comfortable. His bare feet were black with grime, his pants shredded from the knee down, and his shirt so threadbare any onlooker wouldn’t believe he wore one.
He could have stolen a new shirt or even a coat for the upcoming winter, and he had planned on doing so when he came upon something he treasured more than warmth and protection. He convinced himself the contents of the book in his hands now might even be able to give him everything he needed to stave off the cold better than a piece of cloth or even a house, though he had never known the luxury of shelter. The possibilities within this book were virtually endless. He just had to learn its contents. His hands traced the symbol on the spine and caressed the cover before thumbing it open to the first page.
“Where’d you find that, boy?”
Pyter fell from atop the trash heap and landed on the cool stone. His heart fired rapidly within his chest. He quickly stood and peeked around to the other side of the pile where the voice had come from. Either he didn’t notice the man when he sat down or he didn’t notice the man come sit next to him. Both options scared him because the man had evaded his keen awareness developed on the streets. He should have heard the man’s breath as soon as he entered the alley.
“Who are you?” Pyter asked.
The man’s head shifted but remained hidden beneath the leather hood. Pyter could see a peppered, thick beard hiding the man’s face.
“Just a beggar wondering what kind of book you have there, and where you happened to get it,” the man said.
“All you need to know is that I have it, right? Which you can plainly see.”
The man gave a chuckle and his whole body moved with it. Pyter could see there wasn’t much to the man, but it was more than what would be found on any beggar in this city.
“May food find you,” Pyter gave him the poor-man’s goodbye and turned to make his exit.
“Perhaps it can find you,” the man replied, and held up a whole loaf of bread. It was more than Pyter had eaten in a month and almost enough to tempt him into making a mistake, but years of fighting for scraps warned him of the easy take.
“I think I’ve got all I need. Thanks.” Pyter tapped the book and continued toward the open street. The man didn’t move. Pyter grew far enough away to turn his back on him. As he did, he froze and watched the cobblestone rise before him until it was eight, ten, twelve feet tall. He turned back to the man sitting by the trash pile, but the man still held up the bread in offering. He hadn’t moved at all.
Pyter warily returned to where the man sat and feigned interest in the bread before bolting down the alley and toward his only remaining way out. Again, the stones rose from the ground. He scanned the street for a drain but there were none. He was boxed in completely. The realization of this came upon him and he tried to calm himself. The man was obviously powerful, but he wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
The man rose slowly and removed his hood. He was bigger than he first appeared when sitting. The beard was black but with prominent streaks of white at the edges of his mouth. Vivid, clear eyes the color of an ocean in storm stared at Pyter. A hair-thin scar ran from his left ear, up his cheek, and through his left eyebrow where a few strands of hair were discolored.
“I propose a trade,” the man said, “I’ll give you the bread if you answer my question.” He was still holding the loaf out in offering.
Pyter saw the bread in his peripheral vision. He refused to break eye contact with the man, but then thought to try a sizable risk that could possibly provide the advantage. He looked away and feigned interest in the situation before prompting the man to repeat the question.
“I asked where you got that book.” The man reminded him. He remained in place with the bread offered. Pyter realized the man was also wary of their standoff, but he decided to play along.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I prefer to hear a man confess his crime before I punish him for it.”
Pyter’s senses returned to high alert. His act abandoned, he prepared for a fight. He just hoped he might still be alive after he lost this one. He prepared to use the only spell he’d been able to learn. His last resort. He muttered the words, summoning the air within the alley around him. He could see the man’s robe flutter toward him and the air obeyed his commands. The man’s eyes never left his own.
When he conjured all he could, he unleashed it down the alley in gust strong enough to send even a horse several feet into the air, but the man remained eye contact before he vanished behind a wall of flame. Fire shot skyward. The wind Pyter had created fed the fire and joined its path upward and beyond the alley. The heat grew and it grew hard to breath.
Pyter fell to his knees cutting them open, but he was too exhausted to feel the pain. He heaved air in and out and was afraid he’d pass out when the flames disappeared and air once again entered his lungs. His vision was blurred but he heard the boots of the man approach. The man picked up the book he hadn’t realized he dropped.
“Who are you?” the man asked.
“Every man has a name.”
Pyter continued to regain his breath. The exhaustion threatened his consciousness. He hoped his silence would prompt the man to leave.
“It’s no matter, I suppose, but I hate to see wasted talent. Here.” The man lifted Pyter into a sitting position and gave him the bread and a water skin. He helped Pyter eat and drink a little. The food restored some energy and Pyter finished the meal himself. The man knelt on one knee in front of him. The vivid eyes staring. Pyter found he couldn’t remain eye contact for long, so he looked at the stone beneath him.
“Pyter,” he finally said, “My name is Pyter.”
“Good. You haven’t lost the ability to trust completely.” The man stood. “Well, Pyter, how would you like to leave this behind you?” The man gestured around him before offering his hand to help Pyter up. “I can show you a place filled with these types of books. You can learn as much as you want, and even learn to forget what it means to starve.”
Pyter looked from the hand to the man’s eyes. They no longer seemed rigid, but fluid and warm and even welcoming. They were like a fire on a winter’s night. Pyter took his hand. The two stone walls receded until the alleyway was once again as it had been before their interaction. The man patted Pyter on the shoulder then offered him his robe.
“This will keep you warm until we can get you cleaned up.”
“What about you?” Pyter asked.
The man thumbed the book and winked. “I’ve got all I need, and if you pay attention, you will too.”