I’m in Seattle this weekend, but I wouldn’t leave you hanging! Here’s the next installment. If you need to catch up or start at the beginning, there’s a Table of Contents to each week’s link: here.
The West End
The meandering path taken by a thief is called a foxtrot. Jackie was a professional, but this foxtrot felt like it took forever. By the time she made it into the crush of strangers in the West End, she was hot and sweaty. The wig itched, and her arm felt twice the normal size. She needed shade and shelter.
The West End had been the premier Merchant’s Row decades ago. That was before the influx of foreign traders and their exotic shops and hostels built nearer the docks. The winner of the resulting Guild war had been determined by the buyers, and the old merchants with their traditional architecture and wares had been mortally wounded. It was a slow death. The lower classes kept them alive, but just barely.
A hospitality sign caught Jackie’s eye. A half clamshell rested on red sand. At its center stood a gleaming, eponymous pink pearl. The paint was layered on so thickly that dust gathered in the strokes. There was no busker or barker, but a cool exhalation from the open door drew her inside.
The room was full, but not of people. There were creatures of all shapes and sizes, stuffed and stiff, crammed around the space. She passed a tower of raccoons, each on the next one’s shoulders, nine critters high. A lion bared silk-smooth fangs at her. She was halfway across the room before she saw the Mage.
Her training kicked in, and she angled her face away as she chose a table and sat. She could see the Mage and the merchant deep in conversation, but they would only get an impression of her. It was the same young woman, she was sure of it. The Stalks in her pocket felt like lead weights, and she wouldn’t have been surprised if the Mage had turned and pointed directly to them. Was she looking for Jackie? Yellows didn’t wander freely as far as she knew. She needed more information, so she ordered a small pot of meat and large malt from a skinny server, wincing at the price, and practiced the art of patience.
Sharna considered the wine left in her glass. It was the color of rosebuds, although if she tilted it toward the light, green shimmered underneath. She was sipping it as slowly as possible to avoid having to do whatever nonsense Lizabetta was going to ask of her. Even four sips in, she had felt it swish around in her mind. It made it hard to remember to make it last, and she was dismayed to see it was more than half gone now.
Lizabetta clapped her hands and said, “Well. If you finish up, I’ll show you the horse.”
Startled by this announcement, Sharna swallowed the last in a large gulp. It hit her stomach and tried to bounce back out. She must have turned a little green because Lizabetta laughed. “The finest rhubarb. It’ll settle once you’re moving.”
She stood, and Sharna had no choice but to follow.
(thanks for stopping by to read)