Eryane’s breath caught in her throat as the air sped around her, her feet flying across the dirty city streets as quickly as they could carry her. She glanced behind her feverishly, watching for movement in the dawn’s light. Her blurry vision made her question the shadows. She couldn’t stop; he wouldn’t let her. She whipped her head around once more to—
She smacked into the sturdy body of someone in her path, her breath rushing out of her body like the tide leaving the shore.
And he had the audacity to laugh.
She looked up from the ground where she had landed when she crashed into Abbott, who seemed unfazed. She knew he was strong, but she hit him at full speed, and he barely budged an inch.
She blew out a breath, the first one she’d taken in several minutes. It caught the ends of her red bangs, and they tried to take flight. He laughed again and offered her a hand.
Eryane knocked it away and stood on her own, brushing off the dirt she’d accumulated in her fall. Abbott’s black hair caught the first rays of the sun as it brushed over the horizon. Her stomach fluttered and she scoffed. “How in Boroden’s name did you beat me here, you loon?”
He shrugged. “Practice,” he smirked.
She briefly considered smacking him and grumbled. “Damn it.” She picked her canvas bag off the floor and began pulling a small, folded table from it. Abbott did the same. “You beat me to the best spot in the marketplace. Again.”
He chuckled, a genuine sound that lifted from his stomach. “I can’t help it, Eryane. I must want it more than you do.” He leaned against his table with one dark-skinned elbow, smirking at her.
“Impossible,” she said, but she was grinning too.
She unfolded the table and set it up next to his. Other sellers around them straggled into the area, none of them as concerned about getting this spot as Abbott and Eryane were. Gerald, the man next to her, yawned into his cup of coffee while setting his fabrics on his table. Ailene, a few stalls down, rubbed her eyes with soot-stained hands. It was only dawn, after all.
Each day, Abbott and Eryane raced to the market square downtown. The dusty courtyard where they sold their wares laid near the outer edge of the capital city of Nathrynn, a bustling metropolis called Burnhaven Bay. If she squinted, she could barely see the top of the castle from this distance, where it rested at the peak of the ocean-side cliff. Around the courtyard flowed the streets of Burnhaven, filthy canals that city folk boated on to get around the city. The majestic tributaries the city was built upon centuries earlier now served as little more than transport, modernized by humans. And in the middle of the teeming river streets and clamor of residents just waking for the day, the sellers filled their tables.
Eryane gently lifted vials of liquid and small satchels of herbs from her bag, resting them neatly on her table. Nan’s tinctures were a bestseller around these parts. Though they did little more than ease small aches and pains, the residents around their neighborhood believed them to be… something like magic.
Eryane smirked to herself. They had more insight than they realized. Too bad no one could admit it.
Abbott pulled mounds of hot bread and baked goods from his satchel, and Eryane practically drooled with hunger.
He caught her staring and chuckled.
Warmth rushed to her cheeks.
“Here,” he said, pulling out a small bundled gift and handing it to her. “From my mother. For you.”
Eryane accepted it gently, sitting down in front of her table on the hot cobblestone. She gingerly unfolded the edges of the cloth and found a piping hot, cream-filled pastry inside. Her eyes lit up and Abbott grinned, sitting down next to her to enjoy a pastry of his own. She bit down and sweet, salty cream saturated her taste buds. Her shoulders danced, red waves of hair bouncing with the motion. “Tell Calena I said thank you,” she said with a mouth full of bread.
He nodded. “She knows they’re your favorite.”
Guests drifted into the courtyard, bundled in their winter cloaks, pockets full of money for the making. Eryane shot to her feet and dusted sticky fingers onto her pants. Abbott stood as well and walked around to the back of his table, ready to sell his mother’s baked goods.
He glanced at Eryane with a challenging smile. “First one to sell everything on their table wins?”
She smirked. “Done.”
“Stop that boy!”
A voice bellowed from the far end of the courtyard. The sun setting on the ocean’s horizon signaled it was time to close up shop for the day. Abbott had already packed his table—he usually sold most of his goods within the first two hours of the day. Eryane still had a few satchels of herbs left, but she had also sold most of her stock.
Eryane jerked her head up to see a young, fair-skinned boy of about ten years old racing down the nearly empty courtyard, deftly darting around straggling shoppers and narrowly escaping the guard that was not far behind him. He clutched a single head of cabbage in his hands. He saw Eryane, and his eyes panicked.
She glanced around, the guard still stumbling around the shoppers the boy had deftly darted past, and waved the boy over. She stole a glance at Abbott, who was distracted putting away the last of his belongings.
She lifted the cloth covering her table and motioned the boy under it. “Keep quiet, Luke,” she said as he rolled under her table frantically. Even if Eryane didn’t know the boy, she’d have done the same thing.
The guard rushed by seconds later. He spotted Eryane watching him and ran toward her wheezing. “You! Did you see a young boy run through here? He stole a head of cabbage.”
She shook her head. “Sir, I’ve sold all my wares for the day! Please come back tomorrow for more.” He looked at her like she’d slapped him across the face, and she grinned.
Eryane reached into her pocket to touch the bundle of fresh basil she’d picked this morning. She lifted her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss toward him, sending out an eager stream of tension-softening magic with it. Steady and controlled. Just enough to do the job. The leaves shriveled under her hidden touch as the magic activated.
It hit him in the face like a splash of water, and his expression softened. “That’s too bad,” he said, rubbing his bald head, eyebrows knitted together as if a large caterpillar lounged across his face. “I really wanted some of… whatever you sell.” He wandered off, his pursuit of Luke now unimportant.
Eryane’s heart ached despite the small victory. Every day she pretended to be nothing more than an apothecary’s normal granddaughter, while inside she knew her incredible powers were meant for something greater than this.
Luke poked his head out from under her table cautiously. “Thanks, Eryane!” he said, still clutching his cabbage.
Eryane pulled him up gently and scruffed his sandy hair. “Luke, how many times do I have to tell you to stay out of trouble?” She scolded him, but she was laughing.
“Just one more time, Miss!” he beamed.
“Come on,” she said, taking him back over to the farmer’s table.
Jon was laughing. “Nice trick ya did there, Eryane!” he said. “One day, you’ll have ta teach me to do that!”
Eryane laughed. “I understand this hungry young man owes you some money, yes?”
Luke grinned sheepishly from beside her.
Jon waved his hand dismissively. “I would have given ‘im the cabbage anyway, Eryane. It were the guard what caught ‘im stealin.’”
She nodded. “I see.” She tossed a few coins into his collection box anyway and winked at him. He smiled warmly, tipping his hat and tucking a few more vegetables into Luke’s eager hands.
She turned to Luke. “Now get out of here, Luke. Make sure your sister Semi gets some of that cabbage too, eh?” He smirked and took off running.
Eryane dipped her head in goodbye to Jon and returned to finish breaking down her table.
“Neat trick,” Abbott called to her as she approached their tables. He had broken down her table for her and stood with their two large canvas bags, patiently waiting for her to return. “Do you smell basil?”
“Hmm?” she murmured, pretending as though she hadn’t heard him. Inwardly, she cursed. She thought he wasn’t looking when she used the magic. Her secret getting into the wrong hands could be... catastrophic. “Thanks for breaking down my table. I guess you win,” she said, sighing.
He shrugged. “I still have one loaf of bread left.” He pulled another bundle out of his bag. “Split it with ya?”
Eryane nodded. “Only if you let me have the spot tomorrow morning.”
“Worth a try,” she laughed, accepting half of the loaf from him and letting it linger on her taste buds. “Well,” she said, neatly and slowly packing up her things. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. When I’ve beaten you here.” She winked, and he grinned in return.
Before they could say their daily goodbye, a blood-curdling scream rose from the next courtyard over. Abbott and Eryane glanced at each other frantically, then bolted toward the source of the scream, several vendors following them.
A young mother screamed at the top of her lungs at the edge of the next courtyard while she clutched her two children. She and the crowd watched as a soldier dragged her husband across the cobblestones by his hands to the center of the courtyard.
“Amos Ashberry,” a second soldier’s voice boomed across the open space while the first soldier brought the prisoner to a stop in the center of the square. He shoved him onto his knees. “You have been accused of suspected magic. According to the Queen’s law, the use of magic is strictly forbidden in Nathrynn.”
The man in question tried to protest, but the first soldier backhanded him.
“Do not interrupt Her Majesty’s liaison,” he bellowed.
A trickle of blood fell from the man’s brow. He said no more, cowering in fear.
The second soldier continued. He spoke more to the crowd than to the man at his feet. “You will be made an example to the people of Burnhaven Bay. You will sacrifice your hand for the betterment of your fellow countrymen.”
The first soldier kneed him in the back, and he fell to his hands. Then the soldier climbed onto his back and held him down with force. The second soldier drew his sword, and the crowd collectively gasped. Shrieks and cries drifted up from the mass of people collected to watch this atrocity.
With one fell swoop, the standing soldier brought down his sword with fury, and Amos’ left hand was separated from his arm.
He stifled a cry of pain.
“This should teach you not to use magic again,” the second soldier boomed as he used a cloth to clean his sword, now dripping with Amos’ blood. “If you do, the next thing we cut off will be your head.”
Every member of the crowd shook with fear as the two soldiers stalked proudly away, leaving Amos bleeding and handless in the middle of the courtyard.
Eryane rushed forward as the crowd dissipated. Blithely, they had received the message and returned to their daily lives with their body parts intact. She pulled a cloth from her satchel and bandaged his arm quickly, trying to ignore the gut-wrenching sobs of Amos’ wife. Eryane stole a glance to find the woman collapsed on the pavement surrounded by her three small children, comforting their inconsolable mother. Children who just watched their father lose his hand.
He looked up at her. “Eryane,” he murmured.
Amos Ashberry happened to be a frequent customer of Eryane’s. He worked in the shops near the castle and had often come to Eryane’s booth seeking herbs for his wife’s skin condition.
“I’m here to help, Amos,” she offered, tying off the bandage to try to stop the flow of blood. “You will need to cauterize this wound before you lose any more blood. You’ll have to see a physician to take care of that.”
He nodded, but his eyes were full of pain. She sighed. She had to do more than just bandage his arm. She glanced around, but most of the crowd had dispersed. She reached back into her pocket for the mostly wilted piece of basil still hidden there. It still had some life to give. She placed her hand on his bandaged arm and concentrated, pulling the last bit of energy from the leaves in her pocket.
She couldn’t heal him; Nan had yet to teach her those magics. But she could cauterize his wound, at least. She could pull energy from around her to produce a small heat in her hand strong enough to sear his flesh closed. It wasn’t an exact art, and she wasn’t always successful. It was a difficult trick to master, creating such a small concentration of heat, and she’d had few opportunities to practice. But she sucked in a breath and pulled on the sprig of basil anyway.
He looked up at her when he realized what she had done. His eyes filled with unshed tears. “Please, Eryane, be careful. If you are caught, you will suffer a fate worse than mine.”
Eryane gave his shoulder a light squeeze. “I’ll take my chances with the Queen.”
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