Here you go, a fresh update. Have fun.
‘All right, move along.’
The gate guard stepped back from the cart and let the merchant pass, the rumbling of the wheels slowly dying away as it rolled north. Traffic was still slow that early, just a few merchants leaving the city before they’d get stuck in the queues that would inevitably form, now that they’d have to double check everyone coming or leaving, because of the previous night.
‘What do you reckon it was this time? Owl again?’ his counterpart on the other side of the archway asked, as if he read his thoughts.
‘Nah, Yasin from night patrol says that it was for real this time. Werewolf or elf or something.’
‘Since when do werewolves climb walls?’
‘Still leaves elves.’
‘Yeah, because they wouldn’t just do some hocus-pocus and walk through the gate. Besides, aren’t we supposed to be at peace with them?’
The other guard shrugged.
‘Who cares. All I know is that we are stuck with the angry folks. I can already hear them complaining about hour-long waiting times before the gate.’
‘Oh, come on. It was never more than half an hour. And you should be used to it by now? It’s not like we don’t get that every other week for some reason or… Was that a wolf?’
‘Not my problem, buddy, I only do outgoing.’
The streets seemed to grow more narrow with every step, and the houses and pavement turned darker and darker with dirt and grime. Laiva wouldn’t want to live in a place like this, but she had the uneasy feeling that the people who lived here didn’t do so by choice.
And that wasn’t the only uneasy feeling this place gave her. It was far too quiet. Not the kind of quiet that you got from people still sleeping, but the quiet of someone holding his breath, of someone stringing a bow, of someone sneaking up from behind…
She whirled around, but there was no more behind her than had been in front, and all she achieved was reigniting the pain in her head. These little alleys were giving her the creeps; she should get away from here, as quickly as possible. If only she knew where exactly she was.
She had thought that she was somewhere in the southern half of the city, but in that case she should have come across any of the main streets by now. Either she had gotten farther in the night than she had thought, or maybe she had lost track of direction. It was quite possible that the sun wasn’t at all where she thought it would be. The houses were overhanging so far around here, that there was hardly a little strip of sky left between the roofs; hardly enough to guess where the sun was, much less see it.
She sighed. What she needed was a homing spell. Tired and with an aching head, that was asking no less than a miracle; that kind of magic was hard enough for her under the best of circumstances. But she had no choice, had she? And maybe this was a day for miracles.
She cleared her mind and tried hard to think of the bazaar, with all the people and the stalls offering exotic spices and precious gems as well as carrots and apples. She focused on the multitude of colours, the red of the tomatoes, the green of cucumbers, the smell of golden honey and roasted chestnuts…
Her tummy rumbled. No, this wasn’t going to work. Before breakfast, the only thing she would be able to concentrate on was, well, breakfast. And that wouldn’t even help her find an inn, much less the bazaar. Except for home, of course. Every child learned that at an early age, but then again that was much easier. But there was no way she was going back there. On the other hand, all she needed was a direction.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on her home, conjuring up in her mind the image of the house, and started intoning the syllables, as she had a thousand times before. Before her inner eye she saw the magic solidifying, taking on the shape of a little little arrow, spinning around its axis.
She opened her eyes again and, for a moment, she could see the little arrow of blueish light hanging before her in midair. Then she was grabbed from behind. Powerful hands twisted her arms together behind her back and lifted her off her feet, sending waves of white hot pain through her already bruised body. She screamed.
‘Stuff that crybaby’s mouth!’ a voice said from behind. Three grubby looking youths stepped into view, several years older and half a head taller than her. Even being in pain, she couldn’t help but feel revolted at their appearance. Their greasy hair looked as if it hadn’t seen a comb in life, and both their skin and the rags that hanging off them were covered in a layer of grime that rivalled that on the ground.
The one in the middle was pulling an even dirtier piece of cloth from one of his pockets, crumpling in together into what looked suspiciously like a gag. Only seeing it was enough to make her retch. Where were the guards when you needed them?
The boy stepped up to her, leaned in – and Laiva kicked him between his legs with all the power she could muster. That send another wave of pain through her body, but better that than getting anything that vile even close to her mouth. Besides, seeing the boy curled on the pavement and crying in pain was worth it. Who was the crybaby now?
She only got a short reprieve, though. The other two were already advancing from the sides, and the grip behind her back tightened even more. But she was past the point where she cared about pain anymore. She was kicking and thrashing like wild, holding her torturers at distance, but unable to break free from the one holding her. Finally, she threw her feet as far up as she could, and then slammed her them backwards, adding the momentum of her whole body.
One foot hit only air, but the other struck true. Near her head there was a cry, and then she was being dragged to the ground. But the grip had loosened. She rolled to the side, and in no time was back on her feet, for the first time facing all four of her attackers. The one that had been holding her was a grown up, with mean looking eyes in a brutal face and the build of an bear.
She had no time to dwell on his features, though. All of them were already back on their feet and advancing at her. She grabbed for her dagger – and found it gone. The shock had to have shown on her face, for the four stopped and the large one thrust out his right hand, pointing at her with her daddy’s dagger.
‘Oh, has the little farm girl lost her toy?’ he mocked her, but he might as well not. Laiva was furious. How could they dare? This dagger had been passed down in the family for generations. She’d have liked to rip them in little pieces for even touching it, let alone threatening her with it. They were going to pay for that; she would make them pay for that, no matter what. She clenched her fists and tensed her whole body like a spring, readying herself for attack.
At this moment the man toppled over, as if he had been pushed from behind. He smashed lengthwise onto the ground and the dagger slipped from his grasp, skidding over the cobbles towards her, while something large and grey jumped over the body and landed to her right.
Laiva hunkered down next to Mynor and scratched him behind the ears, while collecting the dagger with her other hand. Then she slowly stood back up.
Mynor lowered his head, until it was level with back and tail, bared his teeth and let go a low growl. She gave the four a broad smile and said only one word: ‘Run.’ And run they did.
Once they were out of sight she sheathed the dagger. The smile dropped from her face and was replaced with a blend of pain and exhaustion. She slumped down onto the ground and hugged Mynor, holding him tight.