Excerpt: Burning Bonds

The sun was high in the sky, beating down heavily and baking the market. Colored banners and flags flew through the air, streaming brightly in the midday sun. Most of the stalls were shaded, tucked under canopies strung over the wares and the sellers, but Trinn had pulled theirs back, to better catch light with their trinkets.

Fihr finished wrapping the latest purchase—a blue crystal bird that would sing a song each morning when the sun rose—and handed it to the buyer. Once the man scurried off with his purchase, Fihr scanned the crowd, tamping down his impatience when he found there were no fae in sight, least of all the fae he most wanted to see.

“He’s late,” Fihr said, ducking down to fetch another of the bird charms from the box below the table.

“He’s not late,” Trinn said.

Fihr straightened in time to catch Trinn rolling his eyes. “He’s usually here by now,” Fihr argued, setting the new bird with the purple one that sang at night and the clear one that sang at noon.

“Sometimes he’s not. He’ll be here. Keep your pants on.”

“My pants are firmly in place, thank you very much,” Fihr said, giving Trinn a rude gesture. Trinn thought his crush was hilarious, but Trinn was already married to Fihr’s cousin, so his opinion didn’t count.

“For now,” Trinn said, flashing Fihr a grin. He didn’t give Fihr a chance to reply, stepping forward to greet a woman who slowed as she walked by. Trinn drew her into conversation, and Fihr double-checked that the table was set before turning to watch the crowd.

The market was held four days a week, in a field that was barely outside the city limits of Alenia. It hosted everything from farmers’ stalls to blacksmiths and peddlers and simple charm merchants like Trinn and himself. They were the best charm merchants in the market, Fihr thought fiercely, if only because a portion of their charms were imbued with fae spells.

Speaking of which… Fihr scanned the crowd, once more disappointed that Satu was nowhere in sight. What was keeping him? The afternoon was usually busier than morning, after the initial rush of customers who mobbed the stalls first thing died off. If Satu didn’t show soon, Fihr wouldn’t be able to slip away and wander the market with him like they usually did.

Maybe he wouldn’t show. Satu usually appeared the second day of the market each week, stocking them up for a few days. Once in a while he showed on the third day, but that was rare, and he’d usually let them know. Fihr thought it had happened maybe a half-dozen times in the three years they’d been selling charms for Satu’s family.

A customer approached then, and Fihr greeted her cheerfully, refusing to worry until he had cause. Satu might not return Fihr’s affections, but he’d never leave the stall hanging without good reason. He’d show. Fihr had to be patient. The afternoon passed slowly, and despite Fihr’s best efforts to keep himself occupied, he still spent far too much time checking for Satu.

“He’s definitely late, now,” Fihr said worriedly as the bell that signaled the close of market sounded a half dozen times.

“That he is. Late, not missing,” Trinn said, giving Fihr a quelling glance, as though he thought Fihr was going to do something stupid. “He’ll show tomorrow.”

“Or I’ll go find him,” Fihr said, feeling better just for saying so. He could do so under the pretense of business. They had a contract with Satu’s family, after all.

“Uh-huh,” Trinn said. “Get packing. Aliya wanted me home before dark tonight.”

“Well, if you hadn’t gone to the orchard to try Hosni’s new smoke weed…” Fihr said, flashing a grin and pulling a box out from under the table.

“Which Aliya won’t be hearing about.”

“Not from me.” Fihr didn’t doubt she already knew, given how strongly Trinn had smelled when he’d come back, but Trinn had bribed him to silence already, so he wasn’t going to confirm it for her. “Did you want me to set up myself in the morning? You can make her breakfast or something, get some brownie points.”

Trinn snorted, tucking away a few cheap “scrying” crystals that only young, silly kids ever bought. “What do you want for that?”

“Extra time—” Fihr started to say, cutting off when he glanced up over the table and caught sight of Satu approaching. Relief rapidly gave way to concern when Fihr realized that Satu’s face was swollen on one side, a lurid cut standing out against his cheekbone. Fihr didn’t wait for Satu to come to them, pushing out of the stall and flying over to him.

Fihr stopped in front of Satu, reaching a hand up and only belatedly recalling that touching the injury wouldn’t do Satu any favors. “Are you all right? What happened?”

“It’s nothing,” Satu said, and that was a lie if ever Fihr had heard one. “Here, take this.” Fihr automatically accepted the bag Satu shoved at him, recognizing by the way it clinked that it was the charms for the week. “You can send payment to my parents.”

“What?” Fihr asked, baffled. Satu usually took payment back with him—but Satu didn’t usually come wearing a good-sized pack as well as the bag of charms. Something was going on, and it wasn’t good. “Hold on.”

Darting back over to the stall, Fihr passed the bag to Trinn. “I’ll do setup in the morning if I can go now.”

“Go on,” Trinn said, frowning over Fihr’s shoulder to where Satu was. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Fihr said, turning back to Satu, who thankfully was still standing where Fihr had left him. Jogging back over, Fihr managed to keep his hands to himself, falling into step as Satu started walking away. “I’ve got the evening free.”

“I’m sorry,” Satu said. “I only came to say goodbye.”

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