Excerpt: The Fairy’s Assistant

Hayden hesitated, nearly tripping when someone shoved him from behind. The market was busy, and no one liked people who moved slowly or stopped in the middle of the crowded pathways. Hayden shuffled off to the left, taking shelter behind a throng of people vying for deals on fresh fish.

“Are you sure?” Hayden asked, keeping his voice low. It was lost in the noise of the market, but he knew Lily would hear him. The chest pocket on his shirt where Lily was hidden ruffled vigorously, and Hayden laughed quietly. He broke away from the crowd around the fishmonger’s stall, ignoring the man’s shouted attempts to interest him in the day’s catch.

The girl Lily had picked was obviously a servant. The dress she wore was simple but neat; Hayden could spot a few nondescript patches near the hem of the skirt, so she didn’t work for an overly rich household. She carried a basket, but had to have been getting some of her purchases delivered since she visited two stalls and didn’t do more than haggle and pay.

She worked for a medium-sized household, Hayden decided. A larger place would have had her better-dressed, and a smaller wouldn’t have required delivery. The question was: what household, and could Hayden contrive a way to join it? He could work from the outside if he had to, but it was much more difficult and raised suspicions quickly.

It took the girl another hour of shopping before she finally headed out of the market, leaving through the northern gate. Hayden followed behind her, keeping a fair distance back to prevent attracting her attention. He looked like just another servant, he knew: his clothes were good quality, but slightly worn; his hair was unfashionably short; and he wore solid, scuffed boots instead of the less-sturdy town shoes the richer merchants and noblemen favored.

The girl was easy to follow. Her bright gold hair gleamed in the sunlight, and the scarf she wore to keep it out of her face didn’t cover nearly enough of the rich color to prevent Hayden’s being able to spot her from a street length away.

They were headed firmly into the upper class section of the city. Far enough from the market and poorer sections of the city to keep the delicate sensibilities of the nobles happy, but close enough that they could send their servants to fetch any and everything they wanted. This part of town was also closer to the huge palace that loomed imperiously over the city.

Hayden glanced over the rows of townhouses, a little anxious at being so close to the palace. They wouldn’t be looking for mages this close to the palace, Hayden reassured himself. Lily rustled impatiently in his jacket, and Hayden snapped his gaze back to the road before him just in time to see the girl leave the road to approach one of the dozen townhouses on this street. They were all nearly identical to one another, but this one had a basket with an ugly, overgrown flowering bush hanging from the front porch.

Continuing down the street, Hayden passed the house in question, giving it a cursory glance before walking on. He’d have to ask around, see if the house was looking for help. Turning the corner, Hayden hesitated mid-step, stumbling to a stop when he caught sight of a familiar face a few hundred yards down the road. It couldn’t be—Hayden hadn’t seen the knight since he and Lily had helped a young duke rescue his betrothed from a sleeping curse in Midiera a few months before.

Hayden hadn’t thought knights travelled—weren’t they assigned to a certain part of the country to protect and serve? The knight was getting closer, and he continued to bear more than a passing resemblance to the knight who had tried to declare him a mage before.

Now was not the time to take the chance it was the same man. He turned and headed back the way he’d come, hoping the knight—if he was indeed the same knight—wouldn’t find the about-face strange or worthy of investigating. Hayden hurried down the street, wishing he were closer to the markets or someplace he’d managed to get familiar with. He could make a break for it and hide more easily if it came to that.

Hayden made it halfway down the street before his paranoia got the better of him, and he glanced back down the street. The knight was following him, and worse, the knight looked suspicious of him, and, when Hayden met his eyes, shouted, “You there, stop!”

Definitely the same knight. That loud, bellowing voice was hard to forget. Hayden cursed his luck, debating briefly before quickly settling on making a run for it. He couldn’t afford to be caught; Lily didn’t give up her targets, and disappearing would be easier than breaking out of jail and then trying to skulk around the noble quarters near where the knight had caught him. Breaking into a sprint, Hayden ducked his head and raced for the end of the street. He wasn’t a knight, but he had a head start. If he could stay ahead of the knight for a block or two, he could find a place to hide away in until he gave up and left.

He could hear the loud, clomping steps of the knight behind him—getting closer, unfortunately—and Hayden put on a burst of speed, making a wide turn around the fast-approaching corner. He barely missed running into an older woman bearing a large basket. She stumbled back, obviously surprised, but Hayden didn’t give her a second glance or an apology, taking off for the cluster of townhouses at the end of the street.

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