“Ayat, I will not fail you.”
Picni whispered his previous vow. He felt the pounding of his heartbeat and struggled to settle his breath. He pressed his gossamer wings flat along his spine and hid in the narrow shadow between the brass lanterns.
The sprite, named for the sound of a raindrop striking a pot, thought of his desperate mission. Far from the souk, a young girl, dear Ayat, languished in the slums of Takadoum. She had so little time left and needed him to succeed.
The dim moonlight played pale against the shadow. The spice merchant’s new baby cried for comfort and milk. The air was heavy with the scent of the tumeric and cumin that the shopkeeper ground into ras el hanout for locals and tourists alike. If Picni could get to the spice shop, his scent would vanish and likely the cat would seek easier prey.
The yapping of a street dog gave Picni a chance. He slipped away from the shadows, straining to spot the predator before it found him. The orange cat, distracted by the gossiping mutt, was barely a metre away when the sprite lifted wings and bolted for the corridor. In a flash, the cat spun and leapt for the flier. The tilt of Picni’s wings saved him. The cat landed and slid against a hammered brass pot. The dog yipped with glee.
Picni searched the spice merchant’s stall. He carefully peeked between the fragrant bags and in the cracks between the paving stones.
He apparently used his luck to escape the cat. Picni kicked at spiky pods of anise as he decided where his search would take him next. He had to hurry.
“Perhaps the silk sellers. There was talk of a wedding in southern Rabat.”
The sprite flitted into the moonlight above the stalls and winged his way across the quiet rooftops to Souk Lakbir and its famous fabric merchants. Picni hoped their recent bounty would be his as well. It was a trickier hunting ground. Metal roofs and concrete floors gave an advantage to the patrolling cats. The sprite searched stall after stall without success. He felt dawn approaching and Ayat’s sands running thin. He flitted between the bolts of silk and vibrant cotton. Between tall stacks of folded cloth on a wide table he caught a faint brass glint.
Picni sped toward the gleam. There! Wedged between the cloth stacks, a five-centime coin! The Moroccan coat of arms shimmered in the pale light. He slipped out of his pack and folded his wings. After a squeeze through the fabric crevasse, he wobbled the coin into his bag then wiggled back out of the folds.
The thump of a heavy paw pinned him to the wood.
“Hello, sprite.” The deep, rumbling voice of an overly fed Persian cat reverberated through Picni.
“No! Please, no!”
The Persian tipped his paw, claws extending to cage the sprite. “No? This is the way. What could be more entertaining than this age-old game?”
“A child needs me, she has no one else to help her. Please, mighty feline,” Picni rolled to meet his captor’s gaze. “Perhaps one as glorious as you knows of mercy.”
The Persian snorted and dragged the sprite closer to his fish-scented maw. He bent and inhaled deeply. “No, sprite. I honor tradition, child or no.” The cat bared his yellowed fangs.
Picni drew his dagger and in a flash, stabbed the predator’s tongue. The cat yowled and sprang back from the sting, losing his prey. The sprite unfurled his crumpled wings and flew toward the metal rafters. The Persian, heavy from a pampered life, missed his retaliatory pounce.
The cat growled, “well played, vicious sprite.” Then he waddled into the shadows to nurse his pride.
Picni wheezed in pain. His damaged wings wobbled as he flew through the fading night to Ayat’s side.
The girl lay unconscious. Picni landed clumsily and gasped for air that would not come.
“Ayat, I am here.”
He placed the coin, payment for her passage to the beautiful beyond, in her blackened hand then leaned against her wrist to watch the sunrise.
Her fearful voice startled him awake.
“What’s happened? Picni? I’m afraid!”
Picni flitted up to caress her rosy cheek. “Don’t worry, little Ayat.” He gestured to the shining coin in her hand. “I found what you needed.” He glanced back, briefly, at their empty bodies. “Now, we can go to the Boatman. Together.”