Olekoth was a massive, sprawling city, with its streets laid out in a grid so regular and precise, it was obvious that it had been carefully planned long before the mainlanders colonized this continent centuries before. It was easy for Ayalah to figure out how to get around and to remember where their inn was along the city grid, but something about the orderliness of the city bothered her. Most of the buildings were nearly identical to one another, made of dark wood and stone, save for a few more modern buildings here and there, particularly closer to the palace, that were bigger and had flashier flourishes. The locals wore bright fabrics that looked light and airy, making the city seem almost as if it was filled with tropical birds getting ready to fly away. Ayalah envied their clothing: this far north, even toward the end of summer, the sun was stifling and the breeze did not do much to cool Ayalah beneath her leathers.
She and Greyson wandered the streets for two days, enjoying themselves and seeing the sights the city had to offer; they’d retrieved the queen’s jewelry right away from an unimpressed-looking servant, so they had no real obligations while they waited for their ship to set sail once more. But inwardly Ayalah was tense and frustrated, with no idea how to find the next prophecy holder. Their ship was leaving the next day; trading vessels, the captain had explained, didn’t typically stop over for very long in any given city. He wanted to stop only as long as it took to unload one shipment and load the other, and then he’d be off. It maximized his profits, he explained, and Ayalah couldn’t fault him the practicality. But the thought of leaving so soon, after such a long voyage and without finding what she’d come here to find, was infuriating. She’d tried looking around the shops, visiting the bars, and listening closely to street performers’ lyrics for cryptic hints, but to no avail.
Curse that wizard and his vague instructions, she thought. She tossed and turned all night, repeating the lines over and over in her head—Go along, my child, sail the lonely blue / The land of friends and myst’ries has long awaited you—but no brilliant realization came to her, and she awoke to a bright orange sunrise, with a long voyage home to look forward to.
She dressed with a sigh and pulled back the curtain to see if Greyson was ready to go. He was; he smiled at her uncertainly, noticing her frown. She hadn’t explained to him that she was looking for the next piece of the prophecy, and she didn’t intend to.
“What—” he began. A trumpet interrupted him.
They looked at each other in surprise. Shouts and cheers could be heard now through the thin walls of the inn; people were milling about outside, talking animatedly to one another.
Ayalah opened the door to their room and flagged down one of the inn maids. “What’s all the commotion about?”
“The queen, of course!” The maid was flushed with excitement and could barely contain her smile. “The entire city is on holiday. Good day!”
But Greyson, she found, was distracted. He’d stuck his head out of the window and was having a shouted conversation with someone below. She waited patiently until he straightened up and turned back to her.
He smiled. “It appears the queen of Olekoth has been delivered of a baby boy.”
“Well, this is the first male heir to the throne. The other royal children are all girls. According to Olekian tradition, there must be a citywide celebration of the event. Until then, most businesses are closed and no one may enter or leave the city.”
She gaped at him. “No one?”
“Well,” he amended, “no one except the royal family, should they have a need.”
She sank down onto the bed. “So we can’t leave until the celebration?”
“And when is that?”
“A week from today.”
She was having a hard time grasping the concept. Could she really be so lucky? “So we aren’t leaving today?”
Greyson shook his head. “We have no choice; our ship won’t be able to set sail. We must stay here another week.”
Relief flooded her body. Maybe she would be able to find the next piece of the prophecy, after all.
Her first order of business was to go shopping. Being stared at and avoided for two days was fine, but she didn’t relish the thought of another week of it. Her Miltinian leathers were too conspicuous—word traveled fast in this city, apparently—and she’d realized that if she wanted information, she’d need to make herself a little more approachable. She opted instead for a soft, long dress in a purplish grey, the most muted color she could find, matching the airy fashion of the Olekian ladies. The bodice fitted her tightly and the skirt flared out in a most becoming fashion—and besides, the merchant had practically thrown the dress at her, so eager was he to be off and celebrating for a week. She had insisted that Greyson, too, blend in with the crowd, wearing the more open-styled tunic of the Olekian men, and the two of them, garbed in local fashion, made their way through the city streets with feigned confidence.
It looked like most of the shops had closed, but the bars remained open—and consequently, they were flooded with people. The bars, now that she thought about it, seemed like the perfect place to start: people who had been drinking were more likely to open up to her, anyway.
“Care to stop in for a drink?” she asked.
“I can’t imagine you taking the day off,” Greyson said. “Do you even know how to sit in a bar and relax?”
She’d been surveying the street, looking for the best place to go, but now she snapped her eyes back to Greyson and opened her mouth to retort angrily—but Greyson was smirking at her.
“Very funny,” she said instead. “Of course I know how to relax. I just don’t have the opportunity to do so often.” In truth, she hadn’t frequented any bars back home since her warrior training days, more out of a lack of drinking partners than because she was busy. But still, she could hold her ale as well as most of the men she knew, and there was no reason she couldn’t loosen up a bit while she tried to find the next prophecy holder. “Come on,” she said, “Let’s see how well you hold your liquor.”