Slumber Page 23

“May I help you, my Lady?” She bowed, gracefully, the tallest female butler I had ever encountered.

I gulped, thinking fast. “I’m going for a walk. Mrs Zanst suggested I follow the Factory District out to the right to get to the city…”

She frowned, shaking her head. “That can’t be right, my Lady. Mrs Zanst must have meant for you to take a right and then a left once you reach the entrance to Factory District.”

I smiled inwardly. “And that just takes me straight into the city?”

“You can’t miss it, my Lady.”

“Thank you.”

And as easily as that I was out the door. I held my breath, almost skipping as I shot out the driveway and through the gates. As I hurried along, I peered towards the back of the house and saw some of the Guard still organising themselves at the stables. Afraid to be spotted, I took off at a run, no longer caring which of the neighbours saw.

As the wind rushed into my face, tearing my eyes, my skirts fluttering a hindrance around of my legs, I grinned and pushed harder. It felt wonderful, so freeing.

Skidding to a stop at the end of the Factory District, I peered over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I couldn’t see anyone. I smoothed my skirts down and straightened my cloak and began walking sedately towards the city which called to me with its noise and smell. There were still a few hours until night fall, plenty of time to have a look around.

Quite suddenly I found myself in the hubbub of the city, lots of people rushing around as if they had somewhere important to be. In fact, as I gazed around at the rather drab appearance of the city, with its industrial towering factories in the distance and the squab little shops, I realised how different it was to Peza, considering the wares that were created here.

Or so I thought.

Like stepping into an oil painting I found myself gobsmacked when I walked through an arched alleyway. I found myself lambasted by colour as I entered the market square. Everywhere were people and stalls in a multitude of hues, where quiet sellers stood patiently offering help and information. Never before had I seen such serious, hushed sellers. But as I walked around the stalls, my eyes widening every now and then, I realised why. Their products were beautiful, no matter if they were mass-produced – products that sold themselves. I stopped suddenly, drawn to a stall with beaded jewellery. The jewellery I owned was of the finest precious metals and stones, nothing like this. But I fingered a bracelet made with pleated leather; three beautifully painted beads in emerald, aquamarine and rose decorated the end near the clasp. A little bird of silver metal hung between the beads.

I saw my mother taking a bracelet from my hands as a child, pressing a soft kiss to my head and telling me it wasn’t to be played with, but when I was older it would be mine. It had been a leather rope bracelet, no beads, but a little bird had hung from its centre.

“How much?” I asked a little dazed, holding the bracelet up.

The seller smiled gently. “Five coppers, miss.”

Five coppers? That was all. I picked it up, as well as another similar, only it had different coloured beads. Haydyn would like it, I was sure. “I’ll take the two.”

She smiled pleasantly at me again and took the money. She then wrapped the bracelets separately in tissue paper before popping them into a little paper bag for me. I thanked her and walked away, bemused by my impulsive buy. I wasn’t really much of a shopper.

I wandered for a while amongst the glitter and awe of the splendid market and then eyed a confectionary store in indecision. Finally, at the little growl my stomach gave, I shrugged and went inside to buy a cream cake. I took the cake back outside to stand back from the crowds at the corner of the shop where it met a narrow side path between buildings. I could eat my cake in peace here.

Although the cake was good, I couldn’t help feeling a little unsatisfied as I ate it people-watching. It was nowhere near as good as Cooks, I grimaced. I wondered if Valena was eating all my cakes as well as hers. Smiling wryly at the thought, I wiped at a smudge of cream on my lip and readied myself to make my way back to the Zansts. I was lucky to have gotten away for this long. And I just knew I was in for a severe lecture from Wolfe. Perfect.

Just as I made to take a step forward, I heard a scuffle from behind me. My heart spluttered with dread.

But it was too late.

A grimy hand clamped down on my mouth, dirty and sweaty, and my feet left the ground as I was dragged back into the darkness of the alley. I tried to scream against the hand but all that came out was a muffled whine. I beat at the head behind me, trying to wriggle free from the strong arm around my waist.

“Stop it, or I’ll break your neck,” A gruff voice spoke in my ear and I shivered as a decayed breath hit my nostrils. I stilled, feeling the strength in his hold.

“Do it,” someone else said.

How many were there?! I turned to see just as a musky hood came down over my face, drowning me in darkness. Panicked, I began to thrash and beat out at my attackers. More hands clamped down on me, muffled grunts and curses as they tried to lift me off the ground. I was terrified, furious, to be so helpless and vulnerable, with one of my most valuable senses disabled.

The familiar sound of a sword hissing from its scabbard halted us all, and my heart fluttered as one of my captors grunted, “Deal with him.”

One of the Guard! I’d never been so thankful to be followed! Trying to listen to the fight that had broken out, I stupidly let myself be thrown up onto what I assumed was a hard shoulder. Grunts and a shout of pain found my ears. I hoped the officer’s sword had just found one of my captor’s bellies. The clatter of steel hitting stone made me tense. Then all I could hear was flesh smashing into flesh, grunts, groans, hisses of pain.

“Stop or we kill the girl.”

I heard heavy breathing and then silence.

Fearful, I began to squirm now, beating down on whatever body part I could find.

“Stop it, or we will kill your bodyguard!” the voice below me growled as an insolent hand swatted me hard on the bottom. Tears of humiliation sprung in my eyes but I stopped fighting, realising they had both I and the officer in an untenable position. If one of the Guard had let himself be disarmed, then there must be too many of them to fight.

“What will we do with ‘im?” A rough female voice asked from somewhere to my left.

“Bring ‘im. ‘e’ll only send people after us otherwise.”

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