Eltava wanted to run down the broad, crowded street. Word had just reached her that Searcher had been sighted rounding the headland, which meant the Traveller was returning to Gar’rash. The sooner she reached the docks, the sooner she’d be reunited with the man she’d adored for all her fourteen years.
She had her dignity to think of, though. After all, she wasn’t a child anymore. The boy’s tunic, stuck with sweat against her developing body, earned her enough glares from the more stolid citizens she passed, as did the sword and dagger slung from her belt. A respectable young lady was supposed to wear a modest gown that revealed as little as possible.
Eltava cared little what boring old people thought, but her behaviour could reflect badly on her father’s business. She forced herself to keep to a quick walk, only occasionally lapsing into a half-skip, half-run for a step or two as she threaded through the crowds.
“In a hurry for something, Miss Eltava?”
She turned at the voice behind her to see a man in the livery of the city watch smiling at her. She was used to people recognising her: partly for her status as a prosperous merchant’s daughter, but more for her unusual looks. In a country of tall, tawny-skinned people, like her mother, she’d inherited her father’s ochre complexion and slanted features.
She did know this man, though. He was sometimes at the fields where she practiced her swordplay, and he’d sparred with her once or twice. As he was youngish and tolerably good looking, she’d made a few desultory attempts to flirt with him. He’d smiled and been polite but hadn’t responded as she’d hoped. It didn’t really matter, though.
“I’m going to the docks,” she explained, catching at her breath and wiping sweat from her face. “A… a friend of my father’s has just put in.”
“Ah.” The watchman nodded, his face turning grave as he leant on his staff. “That would be the Traveller and his… magical ship, I reckon.”
“There’s nothing wrong with magic,” Eltava protested.
The man smiled again, though he seemed less easy than before. “Oh, I’ve only heard good of him, make no mistake, but not all magic is harmless. In fact, we’ve problems at the moment with the wrong kind of magic. Heard of As’shias?”
“Of course.” As’shias was a criminal who’d been arrested a month before. Eltava had heard all about the arrest, but no one would tell her what the woman had done. “What’s that to do with magic?”
“That’s because she’s a witch, you see, and she uses evil magic. A young lady like you wouldn’t want to know what she’s done, but believe me, she’s dangerous.”
“Well… maybe.” Eltava examined his face, and he smiled at her a little nervously. Why wouldn’t they want people to know what this woman had done—or what she was supposed to have done, at least? “But she’s not dangerous in prison.”
“That’s the thing.” He stroked his sparse beard. “She escaped this afternoon—probably used her magic to do it. We’ll be searching for her till she’s caught. So you be careful, Miss Eltava. Until then, nowhere in Gar’rash is safe.”
“I can look after myself.” Eltava laid her hand on her sword-hilt. “Anyway, as soon as I get to the docks, I’ll be with the Traveller. He can protect me from anyone.”
The watchman’s expression was doubtful, but he nodded. “I dare say. He’s a strange one, with his magic and never aging, but I never heard no harm from him. Take care, miss.”