On the day of the event, Nina made her way to her sister’s table without raising suspicions. The Good One must be looking out for them, Erin said, for a vendor was due that very afternoon. She directed Nina to feign illness, then to go to the medical area reserved for the women. Erin would follow as soon as possible.
Nina found the clothing her sister had hidden for her—clothing that only a free woman would wear—in a hamper. She changed quickly.
Erin collected the coins and stolen jewelry she kept in an old flour bag in the back of a cupboard, then found Nina.
Together, they made their way to the kitchen.
The vendor was unloading his goods. Erin spoke to him and while she diverted his attention, directed her sister into his wagon.
Nina climbed up. She made her way to the back, found a crawl space behind some wooden boxes, and sat.
Erin offered the vendor the bag she placed in his hand to take her away from the palace. She didn’t mention her sister’s presence.
The bag jingled as he peeked inside. He agreed to the plan, then dropped the purse into a hole in the canvas covering the back of the wagon.
“Krippet!” someone called out.
Nina stiffened. The voice was very near.
“Is there a problem here?”
“Oh, no sir, no problem,” the vendor responded.
“Is this slave bothering you?”
“No, sir. Not at all, sir. She was merely thanking me for the fine product I delivered.”
Nina placed a hand over her mouth, closed her eyes tightly, and held her breath.
“Very well,” the guard said. “Woman!” he then shouted.
“Off you go!” he ordered.
Tears welled in Nina’s eyes as she imagined her sister returning to the kitchen.
Footsteps approached the back of the wagon. “Let me help you with those last crates.”
Nina wanted to shout, she wanted to cry, but she dared not let so much as a squeak escape her lips. She feared her life was forfeit. Her hands shook. She thought she might choke, it was so hard to breathe. She willed herself to listen for more.
“Not for delivery?”
“No, thank you, sir,” Krippet said. “The rest is for delivery in Mansk.”
“Mansk, you say?”
“Just down the road an hour or so south.”
“Make your way out quickly then,” the guard ordered as he walked away. Then, just as Nina was about to take a breath, his footsteps pivoted back toward the wagon. “And next time, don’t let me catch you loitering or chatting it up with any of the slaves again. You got that?”
“Right, sir. Absolutely, sir. I understand, sir.”
“Be off then!”
After what seemed an eternity, the cart moved forward.
Nina’s hands flew from her face as she gasped for air. Shaking, she opened her eyes. There, just inches away, sat the bag of riches she’d pilfered.
She knew then what she must do.
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