Just before sundown on the second day, the iron gates of Miltinoth rose before her at last. Her horse whinnied at the familiar smells, and she patted its neck somberly. “Yes,” she said, “we’re home.”
“Hail, Olikai,” she returned with a smile. She and Olikai had trained together, and he had earned her respect—and then her friendship—by besting her at swordfighting. To this day, he was the only warrior she’d met who could accomplish such a feat.
She led her horse through the twists and turns of the city streets, ignoring the familiar sights and smells of beggars and manure, stepping over animal droppings and around tight corners. Commoners dropped their eyes to the ground, stepping aside quickly to let her by. Her horse obediently followed her through the narrow passageways until she stopped before an unmarked wooden door. She raised her fist and pounded, once, twice, then waited a beat, then pounded three more times quickly. There was a long pause, and then the door opened a crack. “Ayalah,” a voice hissed. “What are you doing here?”
“Gavin, I need to speak with you,” she whispered. “It’s urgent.”
He grumbled something, and a child slipped past the door and grabbed hold of her horse’s lead. “One hour,” she said, placing a copper coin into the child’s outstretched hand. The door opened, and she stepped in.
It took her a moment, as always, to adjust to the dim lighting in Gavin’s home. She blinked a few times. “I’m sorry to surprise you like this,” she said.
“I was with a customer,” he said curtly. “You know I need the money.”
This stung. Of course she knew. “I said I was sorry.”
A woman in a rumpled dress came out of the adjoining room. “Well,” she said, eyebrows raised. She held her head high, like nobility, and her hair was black and shiny, healthy. Could this be one of the queens, or was Gavin dallying with a lesser noblewoman?
Gavin spread his hands wide in apology. “Please—”
“Not a word of it,” the woman said. She looked Ayalah up and down, then brushed past her without another word, slamming the door behind herself.
Gavin sighed. “Come in, Ayalah.” He led her through an arched doorway into a small eating area. Light from the waning sun flooded the room through one large window on the far side, highlighting the harsh lines on his face. “Now, what is so urgent?”
She took a deep breath. “I think I’ve found him. The one the prophecy spoke of.”