By Naomi Kritzer.
To my very first fans, Abigail and Nathaniel Kritzer.
It was before sunrise when the shamefaced man-at-arms knocked on my door to tell me that there had been an escape-Alibek, one of the boys from Kyros's harem. I sent him to the stable to fetch my horse while I dressed, and met him in the courtyard, where I quickly checked over my gear. "What time was he found missing?" I asked, buckling an extra waterskin to Zhade's saddle.
"Nearly two hours ago, Lauria," he said, avoiding my eyes.
"Why didn't you-"
"We thought he must be somewhere within the walls."
So they'd wasted time searching, and they probably wouldn't wake Kyros until after I had set out. Well, that was fine with me. "Did he take anything with him?"
"One waterskin turned up missing."
"He'd better hope I find him, then," I said, and gave the guardsman a quick smile as I mounted Zhade. It had been foolish to search before waking Kyros, but it was an understandable impulse. He had an unpredictable temperament.
Even in the twilight of early dawn, the streets of Elpisia were alive with movement. Just outside Kyros's gate, a man pushed a wheelbarrow piled high with apples, a little musty from their winter storage. I flipped him a coin and leaned down to pluck two from the pile: one for me and one for Zhade. Across the street, I could see two women, the wives of Greek officers, with jars of honey tucked under their arms to offer to Athena. Farther down, a slave-Danibeki, like my mother-hauled water from one of the public wells. I spared only a cursory glance at the street as I closed the gate behind me. If Alibek had left any signs of his flight, they would be long gone by now.
Besides, I had a hunch that I knew where he'd jumped the Elpisia wall. There was a spot on the northern edge where the wall was a bit crumbled, and the weathering had created footholds. Once out of the city, I planned to head straight for that spot and look for any traces he might have left. If I was lucky, I might pick up his track from there; if not, I'd at least know for certain that he'd made it out of the city.
First, though, I had to make it out of the city myself.
Kyros's household was close to the military garrison, which was close to the city gate, so it wasn't a terribly long way. It was early enough that the streets weren't yet crowded, and Zhade and I could move quickly. A slave carrying water back to his master's household stepped quickly out of my way; in turn, I moved aside for some of the soldiers from the garrison, who rode through the street. In the distance, I could hear a fruiter selling his wares: Apples, fine apples; oranges from Persia; grapes from the south, fresh from the aeriko caravan. Apples, fine apples... Elpisia was almost on the frontier of Greek territory, and no one wanted to live outside the protective walls, where they would be vulnerable to a bandit raid, so the h
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