Slowly lowering the foot she'd raised to take the next step, she tightened her grip on her shopping basket and peered through the dense whiteness. Finlochen was as safe as any city could be, now that Ned had driven the Usurper out, but a woman alone still needed to be alert, especially in such heavy fog. Murder could be done under your very nose, and all you'd hear would be a distant, muffled cry.
Wondering if she'd only heard the trickle of water in a downspout, she climbed a few more steps, only to hear it again: a skittering noise that stopped when she did. Gently, Alice set her basket down and slid a small dagger out of her sleeve, holding it out of sight in the folds of her skirt.
Tick. Tick. Silence. Tick.
A tiny, hesitant chirp.
With a snort of laughter at her own foolishness, Alice slid the dagger back up her sleeve and waited patiently until the kobbie, no more than a foot tall, its ears laid forward ingratiatingly, inched toward her out of the fog. It had its tail clutched in its hands, and its faceted, golden eyes fixed on her shopping basket with obvious hope.
Alice, moving slowly, knelt and offered an apple. The kobbie had a hard time deciding which was more important, its tail or an apple, but it finally let its tail go to take Alice's offering, easily the size of its head, in its tiny, human-like hands.
It bowed; she bowed. Bearing its prize aloft, it darted back into the fog. Alice stood, shaking out her damp skirts. No one had ever proved it was good luck to feed a kobbie, but she had more than enough, thanks to Ned—even if he was being obnoxious about not letting her leave Finlochen—and there was no harm in sharing. Still smiling, she started back up the steps, grateful she was almost to her own door.
Thinking of dryness and warmth and a cup of hot tea, she almost ran the last few steps, only to collide with a large, solid figure that loomed at the last minute out of the fog.
Stumbling down a step, she stared at black leather sewn with strips of wolver fur, manacles dangling from a studded belt. Her eyes traveled up, snagged on the crown branded on one stubbled cheek.