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Tugg liked the market. He liked the sense of adventure he got from watching ships come and go from the docks by the seashore, and he liked the way the winds blew over the hills above town, but the market held a special place in his heart.

Nothing made Tugg feel more at home than the raucous chaos of the marketplace. There was always something new to see: here brilliantly colored cloths from Pentos, across the way small mirrors of polished silver, around a bend in the street a man carving driftwood to look like the face of your sweetheart. The merchants cries rising with the shouts of the crowd wandering between shops and stalls in a clamoring chorus, drawing your attention first this way, now that. Exotic visitors telling of stranger lands, if you had the time to hear their tales.

It was one such foreigner that Tugg focused on now, an exceptionally well-dressed man whose hair and beard, as white as sea-foam, were long enough to be tucked in his belt. While enough to catch Tugg’s attention, what kept his focus were the long chain of differently colored metals which draped upon the man’s shoulders, and his peculiar almond-shaped eyes.
Tugg skulked next to a stall where nuts were being candied and roasted, trying to look unobtrusive as he watched the lord’s maester arguing heatedly over the price of some type of herb. Focusing on one person as they went about their business, seeing the particular way they walked and talked, this was what Tugg enjoyed the most in the market. With his gaze locked on to someone else, the noise of the market washed over him. He felt like the rocks upon which the gulls roosted amidst the waves, surrounded by the cares of the world, yet unaffected by them. He could ignore the worries of his life, whether he would eat that day or find a dry place to sleep that night. He could imagine himself as the person he watched. He could dream of being a sailor and seeing distant lands, or a wealthy merchant luxuriating in his riches. He could dream of being a member of Lord Jorrel’s household, like the maester, pondering great mysteries while striding above the common folk of the marketplace.
The rich scent of the nuts, heavy with sugar and spices, drifted down to Tugg. A gurgle from his stomach shook him from his reverie, reminding him that he had not eaten today. His mother had told him to live an honest life, but time and hunger had dulled that lesson. An orphan had to do what he could to get by, after all.
He could see the maester’s purse at his belt. The argument between maester and merchant was still underway, holding the attention of both parties fast. The purse did not look very heavy; surely someone in the lord’s employ would not miss a few coins? But whatever sum the purse must contain could feed Tugg until he was sick for three days straight, no doubt. His tongue ran over his lips at the thought of fish so recently cooked it hurt your fingers to hold, but that tasted so good that you ate it anyway while gasping in soothing cold air. Of a dark loaf of bread, of vegetables that weren’t wrinkled old turnips.
Of candied nuts.
Tugg moved from his nook, his focus locked on the maester and his purse. They were two ships, the maester and Tugg moving discretely towards him. Two ships moving through the buffeting sea of the crowd, but separate from it. People passed before his eyes like brief waves, but he saw only the maester and the purse.
As he neared the herb vendor’s stall, Tugg put himself in the maester’s shoes once more. What went through the wise old man’s head? What distant shores had he visited? Tugg imagined himself a great sage, well respected in the court of some foreign lord (he had never been outside of the Eisengolds’ lands, so he imagined all foreign lands were the impossibly tall mountains and the scorching deserts which featured prominently in sailors’ tales). Surely it would be wonderful, to be in a prominent position and well respected by all.
Tugg’s outstretched hand settled on the purse as his daydreams vanished with a jolt. He realized as he felt a hand settle over his that, in his ponderings, he had forgotten to keep track of the maester’s conversation with the merchant, which had just concluded with a somewhat exasperated “Then we are agreed.”
In an instant, the hand was locked over Tugg’s own, stronger than he would have expected. He wanted to tear away from the grasp. Flee. Escape. Hide. Go hungry. He would have if he had the power, but a great dismay gripped his heart. He had never been caught before, and as the maester’s head snapped around to match his gaze, a sinking feeling which began in his throat dragged its way leadenly through his stomach. Shock and despair bound his limbs, and he found himself staring helplessly back at the maester, too terrified even to look away.
With every passing moment, Tugg expected to be hit. He distantly registered a voice calling for guards. They would cut his hand off. He had heard that was the fate of thieves. Or maybe the maester would think of some more exotic punishment for him. Panic gripped him, and he noted a bizarre twinkle in the old man’s eyes as a curious grin touched the corners of Tian Rui’s mouth.