Kron Evenhanded was packing up his many unsold artifacts when a woman in a scoop-necked dress pushed her way through the crowd and halted in front of him. She had a grim expression on her face and one hand behind her back. “I hear you’re a magic-user, stranger.” Her tone made it clear she didn’t think much of his kind.
“I’m an artificer,” he replied. He waved his hand over his collection: scraps of wood embedded with pebbles, a couple of bronze mirrors with words carved into the handles, soapstone figures, cloth bags, and more. He had the most eclectic merchandise in the city—and the most misunderstood. She didn’t seem like a customer, but he had to treat her like one. “Each of these items is enchanted. Do you want me to demonstrate what they can do, Dame, or should I make an item just for you—”
“Can any of your items do this?”
She thrust a white, bloodless chicken a thumbspan from his nose. Kron blinked as he stared at the carcass. Its head was on backward, melded smoothly to the neck as if the bird had been born like that.
Kron had only arrived in Vistichia a few days ago, but he hadn’t encountered any other artificers—or other magicians, for that matter. Many people blamed magicians for the recent plague of disasters that had inspired Kron to return to his own family in Delns. What if they blamed him for this? He could end up as dead as the chicken.
He smiled at the woman while wishing his tunic and leggings were less torn and stained. “That’s not my type of magic, Dame. I work with made objects, not natural creatures.”
“Well, could this be a side effect of your magic?” she asked.
Kron shook his head. “None of my artifacts can do that to a living thing. Where did you find the hen?”
“In my henhouse. She was one of my best layers.” The woman shook the carcass at him. “We have laws in this city, magician. There’s a fine for destroying someone else’s property.”
“But Dame, I didn’t—”
“Phebe, that’s enough.” Another woman, younger than the first, stepped forward, her arms draped with baskets full of bread, vegetables, and fish. “He’s not that kind of magician. Can’t you tell from looking at his wares that he doesn’t practice magic on animals? Someone else was cruel to our poor Mama Hen.” Her gentle voice became grieved at the final words.
“She was an egg-layer, Bella, not a pet.” But Phebe looked down and stepped away from Kron’s temporary shop as if ashamed by her earlier accusation.
He turned to the other woman. She wore a simple white tunic with a matching headcloth covering her dark hair. Her large eyes, flecked with green and gold like gems, would have made deer envious. As Kron met her gaze, she smiled and looked away. He couldn’t blame her; he was hardly as lovely to look at as she was.
“Thank you, Dame.” He honored her with a slight bow.
“It’s Dama.” Bella smiled at him again, making his stomach feel like a thousand butterflies were trapped inside. If he remembered the title correctly, “Dama” meant she was unmarried. The men in this city were fools to overlook someone this kind and pretty.
Phebe cleared her throat. “I still want to know what happened to my chicken and who did it.”
Without looking away from Bella, Kron heard himself saying, “I’m done with the marketplace for the day, Dame and Dama. Perhaps I might be able to find out who killed your hen.” He picked up a finder. “With this, I can track magic.”
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