~ Oban ~ twenty-three years ago..~
The girl couldn't have been much younger than Wren was, perhaps four or five. But clothed in a grey and tattered dress, and her feet were bare and covered in whatever she'd trodden through in the rancid streets. She sat on the damp ground amongst the filth, and the frigid water was seeping in to her clothes, though she didn't seem to notice. Her spindly arms wrapped tightly around pointy little knees and she stared up at Wren just as hard as Wren had stared at her. Wren took in the girls skeletal face. Nobody's cheekbones should have stood out so proudly. Her face had no trace of life other than not being blue, like she was breathing without really being alive.
Wren stood a polar opposite. An inherently beautiful six year old child, rosy cheeked with dark curled hair, wrapped in a cream leather coat, adorned in gold buttons and hooded in fine white fur that protected her head from the lightly falling snow. Small plumes of mist puffed from her mouth in quick succession, her lungs recovering from a sprint, but she could hear her father's guardsmen chasing her down and calling out her name with concern in their voices. She stood, rooted in place by the shock of the sight of the starving child. Her father called them the 'city's filth'.
Wren had been about to ask the child the most ridiculous question about whether she was alright, when an arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her from her feet and she kicked and screamed. "Hush milady. Your mother is worried sick." he'd told her.
"I want my friend to come too!" she'd punched at the man's back as he threw the young child over his shoulder "Come with us!" she called back to the child, but she remained rigid and frozen to the ground.
"Out of the question little lady. She's probably crawling with lice.." he commented, and she stared back at the girl until she was out of sight.
She'd said she was going hunting. She'd lied. But her sisters knew her well enough to know that and so the lie was as pointless as ever. Really, what she meant was, she needed her time. The habit of sneaking around amongst the slums of Oban had began when she was a child, when she'd found that those who had nothing were kinder to her than those who had copious amounts of wealth. She'd never been suited to being a noblewoman, she had a rebellious nature as a child and spoke her mind far too much. She and her sisters were raised to buy connection to even wealthier families than her own, of which there were few. But otherwise, they were given no purpose, just smile and look pretty and curtsy properly. When all that was done they'd be sold off to marry the highest bidder and have even more rich and powerful sons and so on and so forth. The oppression had never sat well, and nor did the obvious segregation between the lower and upper classes. Her family bathed in riches, they flaunted it in competition with the other nobles and royals and used it to throw lavish status parties and buy ridiculous ornaments.
Here in the slums things were different. Life was much simpler in that regard. Her abhorrent parents had so much that they'd barely noticed the missing coin and foods that their first child had been sneaking from their hoard and distributing amongst the families too poor to eat, it'd been years before she'd been caught, and her punishment had not been light.
Wren had got to know many of the impoverished families of Oban, and she'd felt more at home in the poorer parts of the city. She navigated the streets more cautiously now however, dressed in black leathers with a scarf that covered half of her face and her hood that cloaked her raven black hair. The bounty on her head had increased several times now as personally demanded by her youngest sister's previously betrothed Crowned Prince. His life had almost been hers, and his pride had been dented, and heaven help anyone woman who dared damage the ego of the Crowned Prince.
The streets of the slums were generally safer for her now, she was well known enough by many of it's residents and there were rarely guards in these parts of the city, the poor were usually left to settle their own disputes and deaths were most often overlooked.
She'd stepped up to a door and knocked, and the blonde woman who opened it let out a cry of joy and threw her arms around Wren in a tight embrace "Oh lass I'm so pleased yer alrigh', I ent seen yeh in weeks an' I though' the worst...And your sisters?" The older woman cupped Wren's face affectionately, with more warmth than her own mother had ever cared to show her, and Wren's icy façade broke into a bright smile as she pulled down her scarf to feel the woman's hands on her cheeks.
"We are well Maura, the city guard have been ramped up a bit since the festival that's all..Are you well?" Wren spoke quietly and accepted the woman's assurances that she was well enough, before a second woman appeared at the door to scoop Wren into a second, worried grip. "Hello Issy." she laughed quietly and stroked the woman's blonde hair. "I can't stay long, but we should have supper sometime soon, yes?" she kissed the woman's head and produced a large coin purse she'd acquired at the festival. "It should see you right for a few weeks." she assured in a hushed voice with a glance either way down the alleyway.
"My Angel." Issy took the purse and lifted Wren's hands to kiss them gratefully. "Please don' stay away for so long this time."
"I won't, I promise." she smiled, and they both squeezed her in another embrace before letting her go. Maura went inside as Wren continued off down the alley, and Issy stood smiling at her, in the same place she'd met her twenty-three years ago. Now she wore shoes.