The baker glared down at the two youngsters standing before him and then at the coins they’d placed on the counter.
“Tharius the fifth? What kind of fool do you think I am? Take your false coins and get out of my shop before I call the Peacekeepers.”
Aleria was the one to grab the handful of coin up, then she grabbed her twin by the arm and dragged him out of the shop. Andrean growled and whirled to face her.
“What’d you do that for? We both know they’re not fake.”
She scuffed one sandaled foot in the dirt, looking down.
“I know, but if we get hauled up before the Keepers and they don’t believe us, then you get conscripted and where does that leave me?” There were tears in Aleria’s eyes when she looked up again, but her gaze was direct and fierce. “I won’t let them take you away, Andrean. Not now, not ever.”
She took a moment to put all the coins carefully back into the pouch she wore on a cord around her neck. Then Andrean looked at her, uncertainty in his eyes.
His sister looked away, unable to meet his eyes.
“We go home and tell Mother.”
As a child, she’d tried to steal the color from the grass and the sky for her dress. That was before she had understood. Before she understood that her family couldn’t afford the bright colors the other children wore. Those children had patched and multicolor garments that glowed all the hues of the rainbow. Her dress was black. When she was 10, as a special treat, they had gotten the color for the ribbons she liked to wear in her hair, a speck of red to fill just one ribbon. She had immediately tied it into place, laughing and dancing around as this new splash of color played in her hair. But then the harvest had been poor and the only way to ensure the family could eat the winter through was to sell that scrap of color to another.
“How much for a loaf of bread?”
The little boy clutched a few silver coins in one dirty hand as he leaned back and forth from one sandaled foot to the other. The baker looked down at him, at his dirty and grime-streaked tunic and sighed.
“Depends on who you’ve got, my boy.”
A few years gone, she would have felt bad for the boy, given him day-old bread free even. But not now, not since the last Emperor had taken his armies out to face in the invading Kerani and never come back. He poked at the coins in his hand, a frown of focus on his small face.
“Two Lyander the Third, a Mynotian the Pious, and a Regelian Wendekar.”
The baker frowned.
“Wendekar is worthless. I’ll give you half a loaf for Mynotian and a Lyander.”
Those had been the days, the rule of Emperor Lyander the Third. His whole family, really. They’d faced the enemies of the Empire and maintained peace and prosperity. Sure, a Lyander the Magnificent was worth more than a Lyander the Third, but the grandson was an acceptable coin. Nothing like Regelian Wendekar, the Commoner King. Now that had been a reign for the historians.
The boy handed over his two coins and took the half loaf with a look of pure joy. Then he ran off into the street, sandals clattering on the cobblestones.