The harsh autumnal sunlight burned his eyes as he stepped out of the dimly-lit building. Squinting, he untied Wyrinther from the hitching post, hoisted himself into the saddle, and rode along the main road at a trot, eyes peeled for signs of lunch. He was beginning to feel as if his stomach were digesting itself.
Presently, the road turned a bend, and he pulled his steed to a stop in between a butcher’s shop and a bakery. He looked longingly through the windows of the former and sighed. There was no way he could afford meat right now. Even if he could, he had no means of cooking it. Bread it was, then.
It was warm inside the bakery, warmer even than it was outside in the sun, and the humid air smelled sweet. The storefront consisted of a counter, behind which stood a wall, upon which sat several shelves of bread. In that wall there was an open door that clearly led into the bakery proper. In front of the counter there was a space for patrons to queue, along with two rustic tables located beside a fogged-up window. At present, there were only two other customers in the shop—a young woman and a small boy, both with curly, eye-catchingly red hair, who were seated at one of the tables, each eating a pretzel the approximate size of Seymour’s hand. Resisting his detectively urge to observe them like a creep, he went straight up to the counter to study his meal options, which were scrawled in chalk upon a large blackboard above the shelves.
“Fiona, are you being a praisin again?” the little boy said loudly.
“Shh! For Rezyn’s sakes, Duncan!”
“Mam told you not to!”
Seymour looked slyly over his shoulder and winked at the young woman. She turned bright red and looked away from him rapidly, muttering something about how the word was “appraising” anyway, not “a praisin.”
“Can I help you, grunie?”
Seymour jumped a bit and whipped his head back around to face the clerk. “Uh, yes. Could I have a loaf of sourdough, please?”
“That’ll be three seventy-five.”
He dug out a five-knamick coin from his pocket and handed it over the counter to the man on the other side, who made a show of holding the copper piece up to the light to check its authenticity before reluctantly passing over the bread and his change. Forcing a smile, Seymour took it, thanked him, and went to sit down at the unoccupied table.
“Hello,” he said to the young woman at the other table. For some reason, her face looked very familiar, although he was certain he had never seen her before.
“I’m Fiona,” she replied, still blushing. “This is my brother, Duncan.”
“Nice to meet you, Fiona. And Duncan, too. Are you two from Sysara?”
“May as well wear a sign,” she said. “As soon as I open my mouth, everyone knows where I’m from.”
“Well, I think it’s a lovely accent. Iliathorian, if I may hazard a guess?”
“Nicely done.” Fiona smiled. “Most people can’t place it so specifically. From where do you hail, Seymour?”
“Take a chance.”
“Hmm.” She leaned back in her chair, narrowing her eyes at him. “Well, you certainly aren’t from round here. You talk too fast. So a city, probably. And you sound Murkintsenian. I’ll say Brysail, since that’s the only city in Murkintsen that I know.”
“Very good.” He grinned. “It’s the only city in Murkintsen that matters, honestly.”
Leaning toward him, she said, “You’re very handsome, you know.”
“Thank you! You’re pretty good-looking yourself.”
“Fioona,” Duncan hissed. “Mam said—”
Fiona glared at her little brother. “Shut up and eat your pretzel, would you?”