Body pressed against the cold wall, face gleaming with sweat and melting snow dripping down her clothes, Emery hunched over the roof’s edge. Two men, wearing a hue of blue that sent Emery repulsing, stood on each side of the Eastern arch. There were two ways into the marketplace, both guarded from criminals and brawlers-and a certain seventeen-year-old girl hiding above their heads. In Noriannd, nobody could forget the face of an Aruel, and Emery’s flaming red hair didn’t make it any easier. The king’s guards would sight her and easily catch her off the streets, poke numbing needles into her skin and send her off to the capital.
But Emery didn’t use streets.
She slid across the shingles, palms scraping against the coarse patches of slate peeking through the ice. Her hands grabbed the gutter to ease the fall. Buildings in Larnham were built low due to the harsh mountain winds. It had been months now, and the short fall this surprised her. She landed earlier than she’d anticipated, making her stagger.
Emery slid into the crowds, hoping that her cloak made her invisible enough, and moved toward the crammed center. A delicious, thick smell filled her nostrils, watering her mouth. New baked rye bread and soup. It was best not to even go near the kettle. Her stomach had churned for it since she’d arrived to this city, and sometimes her fingers went places they shouldn’t. Her eyes shifted to the guards and the daggers in their belts. She pinched her fingers.
Her feet slowed by the stall that carried antiques-books, vases, trinkets and copper jewelry. She picked a book up and flipped through the pages. A jumble of words always made her hopeful-not because she could understand them, but because she one day might. The pages had pictures, colorful and velvety to the touch. One caught her attention: a child in her mother’s arms. Kind eyes, curly hair. Emery wondered what it’d be like to have someone look exactly like her too.
The merchant snatched the book from Emery, glowering at her dirty hands. She lowered her face and walked away.
The seller of the rye bread was a man her age, with the pale yellow hair of a Norian. Emery fixed her gaze on him, but her hand was on the table, searching. Spoons, crumbs, a blunt knife. Her index finger dragged the knife over the edge.
She feigned a gasp, bending down to pick it up from the snow.
“Let me do that,” the young man said and circled the table. It was to make sure she wouldn’t steal.
Emery smiled tightly, following his sloppy movements closely. “Sorry”
The boy got back up from the ground, butter knife in hand. Emery straightened her posture. Then she vanished before he could look under her hood. Elbowing her way through the masses, the warm bread under her tunic, she heard the boy shout behind her. She increased her pace slightly, but not enough to raise suspicions.
Her left hand held the breads in place while she grabbed the rainwater pipe with her other one and climbed. The wind tugged at her cloak, pulling coils free from beneath her hood. Clenching her jaw, she reached for the gutter. Her fingers numbed from carrying her weight and turned red in the cold.
The guards came toward her, their hands braced on the hilts of their daggers.
Emery’s hood fell. The coppery red, long and curly strands fell to frame her face and slapped against her freckled ochre skin.
She hadn’t thought they could run faster than that, but after they recognized her, they did. Emery cursed under her breath and tucked her tunic under her belt with the left hand to secure the bread in place. The men shouted after her. One reached for her foot, but Emery pulled herself up on the roof, out of their grasp. She winced at the pounding heat in her fingertips, then ran.
A knife swished past her, missing by meters.
Emery cast a brief glance over her shoulder, a breath passing between her parted lips, rising as steam blown away by the harsh wind. She glided on the ice covering the roof on the other side, jumping onto the next one. A dimple made a sudden appearance on the left corner of her mouth, as the soldiers stood helpless on the ground and she once again escaped their fine, gold-embroidered gloves.