would pay.
    * * *
    Kern considered his options for getting into
Aleria. Normally, there was no problem. Citizens traveled between
the two cities all the time, but if he crossed at a gate, he would
need to give his name, and they may have guards posted, looking for
him. Also, Aleria would be more discriminating on whom they let
enter the city this week, to avoid rowdy tourists. Aleria and
Suriax were separated by the Therion River. It was hundreds of feet
wide with only two bridges crossing it. On either bank stood a
wall, so even if he could manage to cross the river, he had to find
a way through, over or under the wall to actually get into the
city. The main bridge was found at the center, northern side of
Suriax. It was well guarded and the usual means of travel. The
second bridge was located at the northwest side of the city, in an
area known as Merchant’s Square. That route was even trickier.
    Merchant’s Square was a common area of trade
and commerce that stretched into both cities. Aleria monitored and
policed the northern half, while Suriax took the southern half. The
bridge between the two halves was not as closely monitored. People
often traveled back and forth between the stores for shopping and
trade. But the square was surrounded by a heavy wall and gates.
Both cities tried to keep the activities of the square confined to
that area.
    He could always take the long way and sneak
out of Suriax through one of the large exterior walls, then enter
Aleria through one of the main gates, but that would take time and
draw a lot of questions as to why a Suriaxian wouldn’t just come
through one of the Suriax gates. Looked like he would need to get
    * * *
    Laureen paid the fruit vendor and carried her
basket away, slowly pulling out the note hidden under the apples.
This was the only way to communicate without alerting anyone to her
actual allegiance. She felt for the usual seal, but it was not
there. This message was not from the queen. Confused, she read it.
The note warned of a rouge flame guardsman being sought by Queen
Maerishka. Word was he may be in Aleria. Details were sketchy, as
usual for this method of communication. It was signed with a simple
“F.G.” Another guardsman sent the note, meaning it was sent out of
professional courtesy, to warn her of potential trouble in her
current job. She considered the meaning. For the queen to search
after a guardsman to the degree that would warrant sending this
message, he must have some kind of information that was a threat.
That meant a better than average chance he would bring the
information to the Alerian monarchs to seek help or sanctuary. If
he posed a threat to the crown, it was her duty to stop him. If he
simply got on the queen’s bad side and wanted escape, she couldn’t
care less. As long as he didn’t cross her or expose her Suriaxian
origin, he could keep his life and his secrets. She tucked the note
into a pocket and brought the food to the palace kitchen.
Pretending to check the stew, she dropped the paper in the fire and
watched it burn.
    * * *
    Kern crashed through the roof, landing on the
floor of a small room. He really thought that branch would hold.
Closing his eyes, he took inventory of all his body parts. With the
way his head was throbbing, and the loud music playing in the next
room, it took some time. The beautiful bells melody of a music box
filled the air. Then the song ended, and he was left in silence. A
fast knock sounded at the door. Kern froze. “Coming.” An elderly
woman walked into the room and stopped, looking at Kern and up at
the hole in the ceiling.
    “Royal Guard,” the man behind the door
    Kern pleaded silently. Walking around the
mess in the room, she made her way to the door, never taking her
eyes off him until she cracked the door open. “Yes, can I help
    “We’re looking for a man, half elf, who was
seen around here.”
    “Oh, my, what is he wanted for?” She

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