A little late today but here it is.
* * * *
Rhea’s feet were starting to hurt by the time she reached the marketplace. The cobblestones hit her soles at just the wrong spot.
“I’ve never been so glad to see a marketplace in my life,” Rhea muttered.
Her guards laughed.
“You’ve gotten soft,” Rafe teased.
“Apparently.” She wouldn’t argue that she could still beat her guard in a match. She liked it when they underestimated her.
“Where to you want to start?” Perin asked, he tended to be the more diplomatic of the pair.
Rhea scanned the colorful booths. The marketplace had an interesting combination of food and wares like a festival had come to town. “I’m starving let’s get some food.”
The guards made happy noises of approval. Rhea laughed. Cat shifters could always eat. Her mother always told Rhea it was a good thing she had money otherwise she’d never be able to afford her guards.
A pastry stand caught her eye. Meat filled or sweet the assortment covered an entire table. “I’ll take two meat pastries and one with fruit.”
The seller nodded and the food for money exchange went smoothly.
“How did you get proper coins?” Perin asked.
“I had father import some for me. I hate coming to a new planet without funds,” Rhea answered.
“Good planning,” Rafe approved.
Rhea shook her head in amusement at her guards as she ate her fruit filled pastry. They walked down the main thoroughfare as they ate pointing and commenting on things until they came to a small booth that held tiny dragons in cages. They were nothing like the monster that had landed on the train, these looked more like scaly birds. An odd chirping filled the air.
“Why would you cage the baby dragons?” Rhea asked the proprietor.
“You must be new miss. These aren’t dragons they’re Wiewons. They die if they aren’t cared for. They’ve been domesticated until they now can’t survive in the wild.” The man waved a hand to the multi-colored creatures on display. “They were almost hunted to extinction for their hides.”
Rhea peeked into one golden cage and the shimmering multi-colored creature chirped at her. “Can you take them off planet?”
“No,” the propriety shook his head. “They do poorly in space travel.”
“Princess Jamie might like one,” Rafe said.
Rhea nodded. “That’s what I was thinking. As an engagement present. Something from her new home world.”
“They make fabulous gifts,” the seller praised.
Rhea had a feeling he’d say that about anything he sold. “Do they get lonely?”
The dragon birds looked kind of sad to her. Maybe if they had friends they’d be happier. She slid her finger through the bar and the shimmering creature rubbed against her nail.
“Careful miss, they’ll bite if they feel threatened.”
“I won’t hurt you little one,” Rhea murmured to the creature.
The word drifted into Rhea’s mind. Not of her choosing.
“Oh, they’re empathic,” Rhea said in delight.
The seller frowned. “What do you mean?”
“They talk,” Rhea insisted.
“I’ve heard stories of them speaking but only to the goddess blessed.” She got a strange look from the man. “What did it say?”
“It called me friend.” Rhea smiled at the little beast.
To her surprise the seller picked up the cage and handed it over. “Sometimes they choose their own people. Let me give this to you.”
Rhea took the cage. “Thank you. Are you sure you won’t take my money?”
The seller shook his head. “I can’t go against the will of the goddess. Happy day to you and yours.”
“Thank you again.”
Rafe took the cage from Rhea. “I’ll carry him.”
Rhea turned to go back to the castle and came face to face with a tall man with wide shoulders and the eyes of a dragon.