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The Frantic Chase, The Crazy Ride

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“I can't believe we've been framed!”

“Framed?” The darker-haired man—Tonio, was it?—looked back at Miguel with his eyes wide and his mouth gaping. In other circumstances, it might have seemed like a look of incredulity; in their current circumstances, it was more likely the result of trying to speak while out of breath and on the run from the cuadrilleros, the Spanish guard. This man had seemed nice enough when they'd spoken in the shop that Miguel was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In any case, Tonio quickly shook off his look of confusion, composing himself as he replied between caught breaths, “Ah—yes—framed. It's terrible. I can't—can't believe those men accused me of—being part of their gang! Who would steal from a dedicated craftsman like—like your master?"

They continued to run, with the cuadrilleros hot on their trail. A quick glance behind them was all they needed to confirm that the soldiers were gaining on them, and even the typically lighthearted Miguel was beginning to worry. Suddenly, he heard an “Aha!” and felt himself being jerked harshly to the right. Tonio had turned sharply into a narrow alleyway, grabbing ahold of Miguel's shirt and dragging him along behind. They ducked behind a tall stack of crates just outside the back-entrance of a bar, Miguel letting out a huge gasp of air. He felt a wave of relief wash over him that he was finally able to stop running; he didn't think he'd ever run so hard in his life. The two men leaned against the wall, panting harshly, trying to catch their breath and steady their legs, as the cuadrilleros raced past the passageway in pursuit of no one.

After the men had run by, Miguel let out a loud bark of laughter. "Ha! Can't say I've ever—ever been on the run from the mangas verdes before!" He turned to look at Tonio, who was glaring at him and gritting his teeth for reasons Miguel couldn't guess; after all, they'd just made a daring escape, hadn't they? It was thrilling! "Oh come on, Tonio!" He nudged the taller man with his elbow, "You could stand to look a bit more excited about our first escape from the guard! I know I haven't seen this much excitement since I started my apprenticeship at the luthier's—.”

Tonio pressed a rough finger against Miguel's lips, cutting him off. "One, Tonio is not not my name,” he growled. “Two, if you keep shouting about how excited you are then things will only get even more—mierda." The dark-haired man's eyes widened as they looked past Miguel, over his shoulder and back into the street. Miguel turned quickly, only to be shocked at the sight of the green uniforms of the cuadrilleros peering into the entrance of the alleyway. He could hear Not-Tonio hiss from behind him, "Great, they heard you. Nice one."

"I didn't know! I was only trying to—!" But Miguel's words caught in his throat as he saw one of the men gesture down the alleyway, then all four soldiers head swiftly in their direction. He felt the other man grasp his hand and begin to run, pulling Miguel along with him.

"I don't know why I'm even helping you..." Miguel could hear Not-Tonio muttering to himself as they hurried through the narrow alley, dodging the crates and other refuse that littered the ground.

"I think if we're already holding hands, I should at least know your actual name!" Miguel panted, somehow still able to joke even at a time like this.

"Fine. Tulio, I'm Tulio," the man snapped. "And you are...?"

"Miguel!" he couldn't resist smiling, even with the cuadrilleros in hot pursuit. Couldn't resist smiling, that was, until they turned another sharp corner and hit a dead end. Miguel spun around, only to see the soldiers making the same turn and easily catching up to them. "What do we do?" he looked at Tulio with trust in his eyes that Tulio hadn't seen from anyone in a long time. Tulio's eyes widened, before glancing toward the fast-approaching soldiers. He drew in a sharp breath.

"I don't know."

---------------

The door of the jail cell shut behind them with a loud clang!, drawing the attention of their new cellmates. As he looked back at them, Miguel felt a bit intimidated; one man was tall and gaunt, another stocky and balding, a third short but burly. All were huddled in a circle on the floor, playing what seemed to be some sort of game. The other prisoners quickly lost interest in the newcomers and returned their attention to the circle, which Miguel and Tulio silently observed.

The burly man was rolling dice, and grinning widely whenever they landed. The tall, thin man scowled at him before passing him half a loaf of bread. "Three in a row! You're a lucky bastard, Felipe."

The other man bared his teeth in what was more of a hungry snarl than a smile. "I don't call it luck. I call it skill."

The third, balding man commented, "If it was skill you had, you wouldn't be sitting in here for gambling yourself into debt!" This observation was met with a harsh clout from Felipe, but the man seemed unfazed.

Tulio's stomach grumbled loudly. Miguel looked down at it and frowned. "I'm hungry, too. I don't suppose you've got any food?"

Tulio rolled his eyes. "If I'd had food, I wouldn't have been visiting the luthier's! I wasn't planning on stealing those lutes to play them, we were going to sell them!"

“Wha—sell them? Steal them?” Miguel's eyes widened, then he scowled. He turned away from Tulio, not even wanting to meet his eyes, and when he finally spoke his voice had an undercurrent of betrayal. "You... you told me you were framed."

"I never said that; you made an assumption and I didn't correct you.” Tulio gave a short laugh, but it sounded forced. “You really believed me? An idealist, eh? Always thinking the best of people?"

Miguel's frown deepened, his tone more terse than usual. "I try. I'm questioning myself now that I've ended up here under false accusations." Miguel gazed off, his mind wandering back to the scene of the attempted robbery. He felt a keen stab of disappointment; why had his master been so quick to distrust him? He'd been apprenticed to the luthier for over two years now, doing hard and honest work, and yet the man had so willingly believed Miguel would betray him. He'd been willing to hand Miguel over to the law, based on the word of a few street criminals! Miguel couldn't deny the bitterness and hurt that crept through him at the thought... Finally, he looked back at Tulio. “I can't believe you. You're no better than my old master, letting me get sucked into this with you!”

"I tried to help you escape, didn't I? And I would've succeeded if only you could keep your mouth shut! Seems to me that I should be the one losing my faith in humanity, if getting me captured is how you repay me for my attempts to help you."

"I didn't mean to! I didn't know they'd come back. Unlike you, I'm not used to running from the mangas verdes!"

"You keep making assumptions—!"

"Am I wrong?" Miguel's voice was quieter now, as if what he truly wanted was an honest answer to the question rather than an argument.

Tulio sighed. "No. No, you're not. I've been running with that gang for—I don't know how long now. It doesn't matter. I can't say I've ever been caught before, though."

Miguel shook his head, looking lost. "So you don't know a way out of here?"

"Not per se." Tulio glanced around the cell, his face calculating, as if he were assessing their situation for potential weaknesses. "I do know how to pick that lock, though. Or I would, if I had anything useful."

Miguel frowned again, this time also in thought. "What would you count as useful?" He reached a hand down to dig in his pocket, coming up with a handful of wooden tuning pegs and a narrow metal sculpting tool from the shop.

Tulio nodded and picked up the tool, furtively inspecting it. "This should work." He looked up to see that the prison guard was watching them closely, apparently more suspicious of the two newcomers than the three familiar prisoners gambling in the cell. "All I'd need now is a distraction..."

Miguel's eyes followed his, then looked over at the men playing dice. From there he glanced back at Tulio and quirked an eyebrow, to which Tulio gave a small nod. Taking in a deep breath, Miguel walked over to the circle of prisoners as casually as he could and tried to introduce himself into the conversation. "A gambling man, I see? I like to gamble. And my friend and I,” he gestured back at Tulio, “are hungry."

Felipe gave a knowing smirk. “I see. Your friend.”

Tulio, upon noticing all three men's eyes suddenly on him, shrank away. "Friend is a strong word... we're more like acquaintances, really. Believe it or not, we only just met today..."

Felipe rolled his eyes. "Of course you did." But apparently he wasn't interested in the details, because he turned back to Miguel. "You're hungry, you say? What makes you think I'm going to help you?"

"Nothing, nothing at all.” A bitter laugh came from Tulio behind him. “Rest assured, I don't have that impression. The impression I do have, however," and Miguel's wide eyes narrowed, "is that you'd be willing to gamble." He held out the handful of tuning pegs. "These pegs are made of fine pearwood, the best in the business. They'll fetch a good price if you know where to sell them."

Felipe frowned, scowling down at the pegs. He picked one up, feeling the grain and examining it more closely. Finally, he nodded. "Fine. I'll roll the dice three times, and if I roll three sevens, I get all of your pegs."

Miguel smiled back, but added carefully, "And if they fail to come up seven, even once, I get that bread you won earlier."

Felipe laughed, a loud deep rumble. "You're on." He took the dice in his thick fist and shook them, rolling them onto the jail's stone floor. They landed, a five and a two.

"Seven!" called the fellow prisoners, and Felipe's laugh echoed again through the jail. Even the guard seemed amused enough to watch. Noticing this, Tulio began to move as surreptitiously as he could in the direction of the cell's locked door. "Seven!" Tulio was now leaning against the bars of the cell, his hands behind his back and feeling their way around the lock, as he observed the outcome of the rolls over the shoulders of the other men—it was indeed another two and five. Felipe picked up the dice once more and shook them, rolling them a final time. As the dice clattered across the floor, Tulio watched their movements with a careful eye. Soon enough the shout came again, "Seven!" and Tulio's eyes narrowed.

The men began to crowd boisterously around Miguel, who seemed put out at his loss but reached obligingly into his pocket. Tulio, however, stepped forward and stopped him with a firm hand on his wrist.

"Don't give him the pegs. The man was cheating!"

Felipe's eyebrows lowered, and his snarl was reminiscent of a hungry dog's. "What did you say?"

Tulio, to his credit, didn't flinch. "Those are loaded dice; I know how to recognize them." Before Felipe could protest, he snatched them off the floor and rolled them again, in the opposite direction—pointedly, further away from the cell door. "You see? Seven again, a two and a five."

Their tall, thin cellmate picked up the dice himself, rolling them again. "Five and two! You bastard, you've been robbing me of bread for a week!" With a fierce look on his face, he launched himself at Felipe.

What had begun as a light scuffle turned into an all-out fight as the bald prisoner joined in. Even Miguel landed a punch and a few well-worded insults, and soon enough the guard was stomping over in the direction of the brawl, pounding against the doors of the cage. "Settle down in there, or it'll be beatings for all of you!"

"He cheated me out of my bread!" the thin man screeched in exasperation.

"You're an idiot, Andrés! Anyone else would've noticed the dice—."

“Oh really? Then why didn't you notice?” Andrés shoved the balding man into the bars of the cell, provoking the guard to give another angry shout.

In the commotion, Tulio finally moved away from the cell door and wandered in the direction of the scuffle. Looking across the group of men, he flashed a hint of a smile and a wink in Miguel's direction. Miguel, glancing at the lock and then back at Tulio, grinned. He held up his open hand; in his palm were the two red dice.

---------------

Miguel was grinning broadly as they crept away from the jail under cover of night. The lone night guard had conveniently fallen asleep, and with Tulio having already picked the lock of the cell door during the distraction of the earlier fight, the two men had slipped out quickly and quietly.

"I can't believe it! I can't believe we did it!" Miguel's eyes were wide and his voice was filled with wonder, though this time he managed to keep his excitement to a whisper. "I've never broken out of jail before!"

Even Tulio cracked a smile at that. "I take it there's a lot of things you've never done before." He waved his hand in an expansive gesture, encompassing the entire city. "Is there anything else you'd like to try tonight? I'm happy to introduce you to a life of crime."

Miguel tapped a finger to the side of his head, projecting an exaggerated sense of deep consideration. "Well... I may have been falsely accused of robbing a shop, but I've never actually robbed one before. I've done the punishment, why not commit the crime? It's not as if I can return honestly now." He turned to Tulio with a twinkle in his eye. "And besides, there's a certain lute in the shop that I've always wanted to play..."

Tulio nodded. "Well, what are we waiting for? Lead the way!"