Nox the Halfling casually caught the apple as it fell and sent it spinning in an arc back over his head. Six pairs of young eyes followed its flight hungrily. Another shiny, red fruit followed, then another. Reaching into his waistcoat, the erstwhile entertainer added a dagger to the mix, eliciting gasps of shock from the human urchins that sat in a semi-circle at his feet. A simple thing, but always a crowd pleaser, he thought, smiling at the mix of wonder and avarice in the little beggars' eyes. Nox brought the show to a dramatic end by catching the dagger one last time and slicing the three apples into six equal pieces in midair. The speed with which this was accomplished was nothing compared to the flurry of motion that erupted from the hungry street urchins. Not one of the flying morsels made it to the ground. The orphans' benefactor laughed and patted the youngest on the head as he sent them on their way. Then he pulled yet another of the succulent fruits from his pack, took a large bite, and set off through the crowded marketplace.
Putting on an impromptu show for street urchins was an amusing distraction, but he had more pressing business. His latest contract had turned sour, through no fault of his own, and it seemed prudent to take a short leave of absence from his normal haunts. Not that he was terribly concerned for his safety. It would just be such a bother killing all the amateurs Shandahlyn would inevitably send after him. Besides, it had been awhile since he had traveled any distance from his home. A vacation would do him good.
Nox continued down the wide street past the Temple of the Sun and made his way to a well-known stable in the caravan district. As he entered the long wooden building, the scent of fresh hay, stale sweat and horse dung washed over him in a pungent wave. Bars of golden light cut through the gloomy interior from skylights that punctuated the low ceiling, making the dust that floated in the air glitter like fairy gold. A horse neighed loudly in a nearby stall and rattled the wall with an impatient kick.
Must be feeding time, the Halfling thought, as he spotted a stablehand coming around a corner with a bucket dangling from one meaty hand. Nox quickly moved to intercept him.
"You there! I require a mount. What beasts do you have to offer today?"
"Huh," the man replied, looking around to see who had addressed him.
"Down here, dolt," the Halfling said, waving his hand above his head in an attempt to gain the slackwit's attention.
"Oh, hello," the man said in a slow drawl reminiscent of mud bubbling up from a half-frozen bog. "Din't see ya standin' over there. What can I help ya wit', little fellow?"
"Well, for starters, you can not call me 'little fellow', if you value your tongue," Nox snapped, irritated by the peasant's lugubrious manner. "Sir, or M'Lord will do. And second, I am in need of a mount. You do deal in such creatures, do you not?"
"Er, yeah, we got horses and stuff.... um, m'lord," the man acknowledged.
"Do I look like someone that needs a horse? Take a close look and see if that moldy lump of hay you call a brain can figure out what is wrong with that concept."
"Oh, uh, right.