Chapter 45. I Mean No Harm (4)
“Two, three, four… I guess this is it.”
When Calian had passed by three alleys of the Western Market and led himself into the fourth, there was only one shop that was lit in the darkness. Birdcages of various sizes and colours in front of the entryway caught his eye. Calian looked up at the nameboard of the store and nodded in satisfaction. He seemed to be at the right place.
—Nieransha Bird Shop (Rental Carrier Pigeons)
If the store was simply selling pet birds, it would have been strange for them to be open at this hour. However, it was understandable for carrier pigeon services to operate during late hours as people would come looking for a way to deliver their messages both day and night.
Whether it was because the building was small or because the hour was late, they didn’t seem to have an attendant who could take his horse. There weren’t any posts that he could use to tie his horse to, either.
“What should I do?”
Raven climbed down from Raven’s back and stood still, stumped by the lack of posts that he could use to tie his horse to. Calian knew best that Raven would never wander off without his rich owner who could and was very willing to pamper him. He was worried that someone might try to steal him; to be precise, worried about that unlucky someone who would be kicked by a raving horse.
In the end, Calian resigned and gathered Raven’s reigns on top of his saddle. “Wait for me here, and don’t make any trouble.”
Raven whinnied as if to answer Calian and positioned himself by the wall of the building. His black body was hidden under the dark shade of the building, and only the white patch of hair on his front right fetlock stood out.
Calian turned away from Raven. He pulled his hood further down his face and entered the shop.
A chime sounded a little louder than the bell that Yan rang every morning, indicating that a customer was here. The birds inside the shop seemed to have been woken up by the chime and started chirping all at once. It was almost as if he were walking in a forest rather than in a shop located at one corner of a market.
It’s larger than it seemed from the outside. A large selection of birdcages and birds were scattered throughout the shop. There were pet birds smaller than Calian’s fists all the way to hawks that could be used for hunting. In fact, it was harder to think of birds that weren’t in the shop.
The owner, who was wearing a monocle and feeding the birds, turned his head towards Calian and stood up. “Are you looking for a carrier pigeon?”
Instead of raising his guard, that’s what he had asked a stranger who had stepped into the shop with a black robe covering their face after the night had settled in.
Calian silently turned towards a birdcage that seemed oddly silent. Two white domestic birds were asleep in it, leaning their bodies on each other. It looked like a pair of real birds without doubt, but Calian knew that they were just a pair of very well-crafted decorations.
“These birds don’t seem to wake,” murmured Calian quietly.
It didn’t matter that his voice sounded young, but he had been worried that his nervousness might show. Thankfully, a calm voice echoed in the shop.
“They sleep a lot,” answered the owner.
It was the same reply as Bern remembered.
That marked the beginning of a scripted conversation.
“They must have come from afar. They seem very tired.”
“…that must be why they’re sleeping so much.”
Calian felt the owner scanning Calian during his short pause. Nothing from his appearance should give away his identity. Calian lowered his gaze concentrated on not letting the owner see the colour of his eyes.
“That makes sense. This sure seems like a perfect place for an exhausted bird to take a rest.”
“That’s good to hear,” replied the owner nonchalantly, taking off his monocle and wiping it with his sleeve. He put it back on and asked, “What are you looking for?”
Calian’s next answer was crucial. If he accidentally failed to answer correctly or showed any suspicious actions, his head would fall right off his shoulders.
“I need some bird feed.”
“Yes, we do sell bird feed here.”
While the two continued on with their placid exchange, the birds had stopped chirping and fallen back to sleep. In no time, the shop was silent. One could even hear the sound of their own clothes brushing against their body.
“But…” The owner walked over to Calian and stood behind him.
Calian didn’t hear the man’s footsteps. He didn’t need to see the sharp knife under the owner’s clothes to know that it was there.
The owner silently gazed at Calian’s back for what seemed like an eternity. Calian’s breath softly rang his own ears as the viscous air pressed against his lungs. A chill ran across his whole body.
The owner’s voice continued amidst the suffocating tension. “I don’t remember selling birds to anyone recently. I can’t say that I recall seeing you before.”
This was not a scripted question. Calian had to think of an answer himself.
Right away, a small chuckle leaked out of Calian’s mouth. “My bird has only just left its nest to find food. It’s only obvious for you not to have sold it to me.”
The owner halted his footsteps that were slowly approaching Calian. “Do you know where the bird came from?”
The script resumed. Calian replied without hesitation. “I heard that it drifted along with the southeastern wind.”
“Whose bird is it, then?”
Calian slowly turned around and faced the owner.
Under his hood, his lips drew a long smile. The final answer to this exchange spilled out.
“The bird belongs to Nevlad.”
Devlan, the King of Secretia. Nevlad was an anagram of Devlan.
In other words, Calian was—
The first Kailisian prince attempting to obtain information about Kailis in the headquarters of Secretian spies.