Alloran huddled in the shadows of the alley mouth across from the west gate, watching the guards search every man and woman leaving the city of Ehsan. He sweltered within the confines of his light dust cloak. The hood concealed his face, and a few days worth of stubble blurred the shape of his jaw. Anything to make him that much harder to recognise. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hide his indigo wizard eyes from another wizard or a sorceress, though a spell concealed their colour from normal vision.
A queue of backed-up traffic wound out of sight along the Avenue of Falling Stars. Travelers, merchants, and farmers waited with resigned patience.
Seven hells, after three months, the delays were normal. Surely, they’d give up soon.
Will they? For such a heinous crime….
It was not a thought he liked to dwell on. He slouched to hide his unusual height, and squinted at the mailed guards. They represented a minor inconvenience. The quartet of three wizards and one sorceress, though, were entirely different. There’d be no escaping their notice, even though the soldiers might be fooled. Almost involuntarily, his gaze flicked to the castle–not the king’s castle in the central district but the wizards’. Perched atop the mountain overshadowing the city, its turrets clawed the sky. Home, once. Now he hid from it like a beetle scuttling away from the sun. Only enough luck to fill the seven celestial levels kept him safe.
The wizards stood as the guards inspected each traveler and allowed passage. One, in linen shirt and leather pants with a sword on his hip, spoke companionably to the guard nearest him. The silk-swathed sorceress gazed down the street towards Alloran, or perhaps past him, with eyes that were yellow or purple, the mark of a woman of power. Easing back into the shadows slowly enough to avoid attracting attention, he headed to the square where Dek and the unfinished statue would be waiting.
A peaceful lassitude crept over Alloran at the thought of the statue. Three months ago, the notion of hacking a statue out of a lump of rock would have been distasteful, to say the least. Now, the act of creation gave him a refuge that he couldn’t find anywhere else.
Stripping off the cloak, he tramped through the back alleys, his boots squelching through something he didn’t care to examine too closely. Summer heat left the narrow streets ripe with the stench of rotting garbage. The muck would take weeks to clean from his boots, assuming he wouldn’t have to traipse through the same decomposing food tomorrow. But he knew better.
He heaved a sigh for the soft leather half-boots he’d favoured in another life. Of course, they’d be ruined even faster than the heavy work boots. Oh for a clean street.
In the past, he’d waded knee-deep through any kind of muck as long as an answer lay on the other side. Two lives ago, that had been. Now, he did it in the hope of prolonging his pathetic existence one more day.
A tangled pile of crates blocked most of the alley. When he squeezed between the stack and the alley wall, the splintered wood scratched the stiff canvas of his smock and snagged his stonemason’s mallet. It was impossible to avoid the rubbish piled between wall and crates, and he wrinkled his nose at the stench.
If only he could take the main streets, kept clean by an army of royal sweepers, but they’d be watching for him there and at the gates. No one at the citadel would expect to find him in this stinking back alley. No, not him. Not the man of silks and velvets.
As he slipped through the narrowest point, the crates shifted, allowing him a glimpse into the middle of the pile. An eye stared back at him. A fixed and glazed eye.