Caleb and I wandered through the twists and turns of the city. It was early morning, but people were already out and about, chattering and going about their business. As we walked, Caleb kept up a running commentary, telling some story about nearly every building we passed:
"If you turn that way, you can find the best pastries in the city. I don't know if the shop is open yet, but we can stop by on the way back. And over this way is where my friend Darrell used to live. He was part of the group, but he volunteered a couple months back to move closer the the Capitol. We don't hear from him much. It's usually too dangerous to break cover over there." So the walk went, and I simply stood by, taking in everything: the sights, the sounds, the stories. Back home I'd lived outside a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Although I knew Aloren was nothing compared to the large cities further from the border, I was entranced.
"And that shop there –" Suddenly, Caleb cut off his narrative. "Lena, this way. We can't be seen."
A man, half-hidden under his hood, strode down the street, eyes scanning the people on their morning errands. People scurried out of the way as he passed. Caleb and I turned the corner, but I could tell it was too late. He'd spotted us. I took a step backward and prepared to turn but Caleb stopped me.
"Don't run. Then he'll know it's us for sure."
Approaching Caleb and me, he said, "Hello sir, miss. I can't help but notice you look quite a bit like a young lady and her companion we've been searching for. Would you mind joining me for a drink?"
I stood, frozen. My heart beat in my chest, and I could feel every thump shake my body. Then, before Caleb could respond, I began to speak.
"Oh, but Dean promised me this morning that we could go to the market right as it opened. He said he'd buy me bread right as it came out of the oven from the store on market square, and he'd buy me a new hair ribbon! He promised!" The man raised his eyebrow. Terrified, I realized my newfound 'power' was failing me. I pressed on, willing the man to believe me. "Market day only happens once a month, and I don't want to miss it." I grabbed onto Caleb's hand and pulled at it, like a child begging for sweets. "Come on, Dean, tell him."
With my touch, Caleb sprang into action. "Hang on just a minute, Sally. I'm sorry, sir. My -- my little cousin is just a bit overeager this morning. I surmise that this conversation needs some discretion. May I take your card and call on you this afternoon? I fear that anywhere we go now, we would only attract attention with her bouncing off the walls and asking me every two minutes if we can go yet."
"Oh, please, sir! I don't think I could possibly wait this morning!" I added in. Caleb gave me a stern look, although I wasn't quite sure whether he was telling me not to push it or simply staying in character as the responsible older cousin.
"Very well," the man said, passing over a small red card. "I shall expect you this afternoon, no later than three o'clock. You will be there." He turned on his heel and walked away.
After a moment, we both let out the breath we'd been holding. Caleb squeezed my hand and stepped away.
"I am impressed with your quick thinking," he said to me.
"And I yours," I replied. "But who was he? And how can he be so sure we'll turn up?"
"That man," said Caleb softly, "is the King's advisor. And if we don't turn up, he'll release our description to the city's guards as criminals and we'll be locked up within a day."