A Measure of Trust
Hanso first met Brynn when he was still at the beginning of his... illustrious career.
He was young, unsure of his own age; he lived freely, unconstrained by the tedious trappings of civilization. He had no need for keeping track of time beyond knowing when it was night and when it was day, because he ate when he was hungry and he slept when he was tired, and he had even less need for tracking the days.
Suffice to say, he was a small thing, an Ixi kid, agile enough to slip into crowds unnoticed and slip out of crowds with a few more coins clinking in his pockets. He took full advantage of this, knowing that as he grew older, he would have to be more refined in his method.
That day, Brightvale was as bustling as ever, the sun shining softly and the spring air crisp. He'd been relieving Neopians of excess currency for enough time that he thought he knew perfectly well what he was doing and he'd eluded the Brightvale Guards enough times to grow extremely cocky.
He was loitering outside the Brightvale Fruits shop, debating whether he was in the mood for Jipple Pear or Skeem today, with no intention of paying for either, when he looked over at the Brightvale Armoury.
The Draik who owned the shop was gesturing extravagantly while talking, making his eye-searing green robes flutter. Hanso took a moment to snort at the Draik's terrible sense of fashion before his eyes stopped on the person he was talking to.
A young Kougra, perhaps not older than Hanso himself, stood there. The Draik seemed to be monopolizing the conversation, so her only contributions to it were embarrassed protestations that no, she did not need a new robe, the Brightvale City Guard provided her with the necessary uniform.
It was only then that Hanso noticed she was wearing a Junior Guard's uniform, only a green and white shirt, without the sun design.
“Ah,” Hanso thought. “A greenhorn.” It was unmistakable, the air of a new Guardsman (or Guardswoman... or Guardsgirl, in this Kougra's case, because she was barely old enough to be trusted with anything sharper than a butter knife.)
He grinned suddenly, his eyes falling on the small money purse on her belt.
Well, well, well.
“Maybe I shouldn't,” Hanso considered. After all, he couldn't help notice that the purse was right next to a sword. But he'd picked the pockets of individuals much scarier than her and gotten away from them. She looked relatively harmless, for all that she was a Guard. And besides, she was new at this job. It would be downright instructional if she experienced the perils and petty criminal acts that she, as a Guard, would have to combat as part of her daily duty.
“Yep, I'm doing her a favor,” Hanso thought cheerily, as he rounded the two shops and came around from an angle he was sure she couldn't see him.
Her conversation with the Draik seemed to be coming to an end. She finally managed to tell the shopkeeper that she simply could not afford any of his lovely wares.
“It's quite alright, though, sir,” she insisted, “I will be sure to buy something from your shop as soon as I receive my first paycheck.”
“Why, you're such a polite young lady,” the Draik preened, adjusting the sleeves of his robe just so. “I will make you something special! Perhaps a hat to go with your uniform...”
He wandered back inside the store, muttering to himself about textiles and colors. The Kougra remained at her post, outside the shop, watching the crowds pass by.
She hadn't spotted Hanso.
The Ixi walked carefully along the wall of the shop. She was near enough to the corner that all he had to do was reach out slightly to reach her money purse.
He gently grabbed the cloth bag and tried to lift it, but realized suddenly that it was light. Too light, in fact. There couldn't be more than two Neopoints and some lint in it!
He was struck by a slight bout of hesitation then—not out of guilt, Fyora forbid! Definitely, most assuredly not guilt over stealing from someone who obviously did not have more than two coins to rub together! No, he was just... not sure this was worth it anymore.
Unfortunately for Hanso, he hesitated just long enough for the Kougra to notice something amiss. Quicker than he could react, he felt his outstretched hand being gripped and himself being unceremoniously tugged out into the open.
“What do you think you're doing?” the Kougra hissed at him with all the self-righteousness befitting a Brightvale Guard.
“I, uh--” But before Hanso could muster an undoubtedly brilliant reply, another voice chimed in.
“What do you have there, Brynneth?” A tall, imposing Grarrl in the green uniform appeared.
“He tried to pick my pocket, sir,” Brynneth replied, straightening her back and clicking her heels together, all while still keeping Hanso in a death-grip.
The Grarrl looked down on Hanso with a speculative gaze.
“A scoundrel, this one,” he said. “You can see it just by looking at him.”
Hanso looked at himself, feeling insulted. True, his clothes were a bit dusty and maybe patched up a bit and his fur was not very well groomed, but he certainly didn't look bad enough to warrant such comments! He huffed unhappily.
“And what do you have to say for yourself?” the Grarrl asked, addressing Hanso for the first time.
“That I at least have a better dress sense than whoever made those uniforms,” Hanso shot back, gesturing towards the Grarrl.
The Guard scowled; the expression seemed made especially for the faces of Grarrls everywhere.
Hanso got a slight chill. He'd gone too far. He could have still talked himself out of this mess if he'd maintained his calm, but noooo, he just had to bait the big, scary Guardsman who was probably strong enough to crush him like an empty Neocola can.
“I'll take this smart-mouthed twerp to the dungeons,” the Grarrl said darkly, putting a hand on Hanso's shoulder and squeezing just a little too tightly for Hanso's comfort.
The Kougra—Brynneth--looked from the Grarrl to Hanso rapidly, her eyes widening slightly.
“No, sir,” she said quickly, “it's alright. I'll take him!”
The Grarrl looked at Brynneth.
“Are you sure, lass?”
“Yes, sir. It'll be good experience.” Brynneth nodded.
He gave another scowl to Hanso, but released him and gestured for Brynneth to proceed. The Kougra took out a pair of standard-issue shackles and clamped Hanso's hands at his back.
“Take him to the dungeons, then come back and finish your patrol,” the Grarrl said. “This'll be a more exciting first day than most Guards ever have,” he added with a toothy grin.
“Yes, sir,” Brynneth said neutrally and pushed Hanso towards the road.
They were barely out of sight of the Grarrl when Brynneth leaned over to whisper to Hanso,
“You did a very stupid thing, insulting the uniform.” There was reprimand in her voice, but also a hint of sympathy.
Aha. Something Hanso could exploit.
“Well, that shade of green doesn't really suit everyone,” he said. “Though I think it does bring out your eyes beautifully.”
He looked over his shoulder and grinned when he saw the Kougra blushing profusely.
“Eyes ahead,” she said tersely.
He complied, but after a few more minutes, he turned to look at her again.
“So what's going to happen to me?” he asked.
“You will be held in the dungeons until tomorrow morning, when you will be brought to judgment in front of King Hagan,” Brynneth replied.
“Don't make faces,” Brynneth said. “King Hagan is wise and just.”
“Well, why wouldn't he be? He can certainly afford it, sitting on his nice, cushy throne and reading his nice, expensive books,” Hanso snorted. “Meanwhile, I try to make a living by going out and, y'know, actually working, and he gets to judge me for it.”
“There are better ways to make a living than stealing,” Brynneth said, her tone unexpectedly sharp.
Hanso was reminded suddenly of her almost-empty purse. Of course she'd think that way. Here she was, dirt-poor, and she still held to her lofty ideals of hard work and honesty.
He was about to formulate an answer to this when there was a sudden commotion in the crowd.
A purse-snatcher, one yellow Mynci who was not as talented as Hanso, dashed by them.
“Stop him!” someone yelled.
“Oh, dung,” Brynneth muttered to herself before addressing Hanso. “You, stay here!”
She ran off into the crowd after the Mynci.
“Well,” Hanso thought, “this escape was more convenient than I expected.”
And he was this close to turning around and walking off, unhindered, never to be seen again, when he realized that he couldn't do it. He wasn't sure what kept him rooted on the spot, except that he kept thinking about Brynneth and her almost-empty bag, of the fact that this was her very first day and that losing a suspect in custody would not go over well with her superiors.
He cursed himself for it, but he stayed still. Later. He'd escape later, from under the nose of someone who wasn't as sympathetic as Brynneth.
“I'll have to make it a darn impressive escape to compensate for this,” he muttered to himself.
Brynneth reappeared eventually, winded, but empty-handed. So, the Mynci got away. Probably for the best he didn't slip off, then. Losing two thieves in one day was bound to get her kicked out.
“You stayed,” Brynneth said as she stopped in front of Hanso, sounding amazed.
“What, don't you trust me?” he said with his most winning grin.
Brynneth gave an unsure smile.
“I'm not sure what to believe about you, honestly. Just... why? You could have run off and been miles away by now. Why did you stay?”
“Why did you insist on taking me to the dungeons instead of Officer McScowly?” Hanso shrugged.
“His name is Aldim!” Brynneth said, putting a paw to her mouth when a chuckle escaped her. “And it was because I thought you were in enough trouble already.”
“Well, there you go. We're even now.”
“No, we're not. I answered your question, but you didn't answer mine. Why didn't you run?”
“Did you want me to?”
“Oh, you--” Brynneth shook her head. “I don't even know your name.”
“It's Hanso,” he replied cheerily. “But really now, if it's because of some Kougra hunting instinct, I could run now and you can chase me.”
“Hanso,” Brynneth said.
That first time, as all the times she would say his name from that point on, she managed to fill those two syllables with exasperation and friendly affection and just a hint of disapproval. Over the years, the relative quantities of the three feelings would change, but right now, the first time, it seemed to contain all three equally.
“Yep, that's me,” he said cheerily.
“...Oh.” Brynneth blinked when she remembered that Aldim had, indeed, said her name in front of him. “Well, you can call me Brynn.”
“Brynn, then. Nice to meet you.” Hanso was surprised to realize that he meant it.
“We should get going,” Brynneth gestured vaguely towards the castle on the horizon.
“Right. The wheels of justice never stop,” Hanso sighed. “Or some other proverb His Royal Beardyness is fond of saying.”
“Hanso! Don't disrespect King Hagan.”
“Well, it's not my fault he never trims that thing.”
“Oh, just keep walking.”
It was the first time he would see the inside of Brightvale's dungeons and, conversely, the first time he would escape. But it would not be the first time he and Brynn would cross paths. Years later, he would look back on those events and be grateful for the measure of trust he'd won from her that day.