Ch. 25. Masked Trickery

The horse shied as she led it from the small ferry boat and over a wooden ramp onto the more-or-less solid ground of the royal city. Luckily, it was far too old to have the fiery temperament of a noble warhorse. By the look of it, it actually never had had such a temperament, having the frame of an ageing brewery horse one had mercifully sold to the young tramp instead of sending it to the knacker after years of service. Sesus certainly had not been built with horses in mind. The little gap between the gently rocking ferry and the pier already was enough to make getting the horse off the boat an incredibly frustrating job, with the loud sounds of the busy city and the many masked people only worsening the deal. When the horse finally moved, the carriage it dragged behind itself violently jolted over the ramp, shaking everything inside, causing a clatter and rattling that made her fear for the more fragile items she had with her.

Finally, Lotye O’Tulvar had transported her complete belongings, all of which were in this cart, onto the pier. With a swift movement, she climbed on the coach box and began to slowly manoeuvre through the crowded streets, following the group of similar vehicles which had been on the ferry with her. The colourfully painted covers of some of the wagons didn’t make much of a sensation as the city was already full of people like them. But from her heightened position, Lotye was able to overhear more than one person to curse the carriages, which were a rarity in Sesus, blocking all of the road. They drove over a few bridges and a along a number of canals before they reached the free spot assigned to them to do their business. Business that meant getting a bit of money for some impressive circus arts for some of them, and relieving the audience of a few more coins in more subtle ways for others.

Lotye’s business was the latter. They’re having this feast for three gods, but I’m sure nobody will mind if I add my worship for a fourth one to it. After all, it is just another trade. I hope for a good prize, Pwyll. She definitely wasn’t the only one to think so. Of course there were Guardians representing the opposite aspect of the same god on every street corner, but there also were many of her kind, followers of Pwyll who walked the more shadowy path of his worship. Sesus was full of people enjoying the spectacles of the feast. And where there were lots of people, more so, people with full purses, there also were criminals to take the weight of these heavy purses of their shoulders.

After she had parked the carriage in the shadow of some building and had given the old nag some fresh hay, Lotye disappeared under the cover of her cart. There, next to her personal belongings and to the straw mattress and blankets she used as a bed, she had the items she sold. Most of them articles of daily use, like cheap daggers, brooms, frying pans, tools and even a few pens. Day after day, she would give those things fancy names that hinted at the magical qualities they were supposed to have and the she sold them gullible souls who thought to make the deal of their lives. In a small box she also had a few vials full of colourful, but completely useless liquids and behind that box she hid a few select, more valuable items. More valuable in this case meant that they were of better quality and prettier to look at, but still completely absent magical properties. In this corner of her stuffed little mobile home she also had the small leather pouch which contained most of her money.

But before it was time to get to the business of making profit out of someone’s greed and willingness to believe this woman with the beautiful face who claimed to be a trained wizard and experienced enchanter, Lotye would take a look at the city. It was her first time to see the seemingly floating royal city and other than her nameless horse, she liked it. And while she’d already be at it, she could just as well use the time to increase her meagre profit by finding coins. Not coins lying on the street, but coins in someone’s wallet. The difference wasn’t all that big to her. Before she moved out, Lotye changed the practical clothes she had worn for the journey oversea for a more elegant midnight blue dress she always put on for dealing with her customers. It was a bit too long for her and patched up in more than just one spot, but on a first glance it would help her to blend in better with the rest of well clothed crowd. Additionally she combed her long, brown hair, which was of a brilliant reddish tint, and braided it. Prepared like this, she left the cart, asked a juggler practising his tricks nearby and gaining first attention to have an eye on it and then mixed under the people walking by.

But there still was one thing that differentiated her from the men and women around her. Nearly all of them were wearing masks. Some of them hiding their faces behind elaborate works of art, some with masks that just covered the upper half of their faces. But there were only few people without one. Even most foreigners like her were wearing them. It made her stand out to be without one. Lotye gritted her teeth for having to spend money on something like that, but stealing a mask seemed out of question and she quietened herself with the thought that being under a mask could actually help concealing her grifts. So, as she spotted the next market stall carrying half-way cheap masks, she bought as simple one, in a dark tone similar to her dress which contrasted strongly with the skin of her cheeks that it left uncovered.

Concealed this way, she returned to the colourful ado of the festival. It’s time to lift some purses. There were many persons who looked like promising targets to her, but she continued watching. She didn’t want to risk too much, so she waited for some proof that the reward was worth the risk. While she was on lookout for an easy target, she strolled around and admired the wonders of the city as well as its inhabitants. Of course, being who she was, she also couldn’t help but notice the green and gold coats of the Guardians wherever they stood.

It took her some time, mostly because she was cautious, but also because her eyes followed the elegant arches and the graceful lines of the towers that marked the architecture of Sesus just as often as they followed they fat purses hanging from some people’s belts. But finally she saw a chance for her. It was in a less populated side street, where she spotted two men negotiating something over a table. When she saw one of them counting gold coins on the table, she knew that her chance had come. Something small was exchanged between the two men, she couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but it had to be valuable, jewellery perhaps or some magic items. The discreetness with which the deal passed off probably meant that it also was less than completely legal, which meant for her that a victim was less likely to go to the Guardians. Everything fitted.

Her first instinct was to go after the seller. But while she was approaching the two men who were now departing in opposite directions, a group of chattering women in wide dresses walked in between and broke her line of sight. When they had moved by, the seller had long slipped into some alley and was nowhere to be seen. But the buyer was now moving directly towards Lotye. I guess there will be some more of these coins where those came from. Whatever he bought is probably also worth it, she thought to herself. Without stopping for even the shortest moment, she continued her way, as if she had taken no interest in the man at all. The way was narrow at this point, both sides of the street crowded with small stalls selling snacks and other things. When their ways crossed and they walked so close together that the cloth of his cloak and the one of her dress touched, nobody would have taken any notice of it. They were just two normal people walking down the street in opposite directions and trying not to make any problems by shuffling past each other.

What really happened was something different. Lotye had planned her route carefully to lead her close to him in exactly this position. By the way the man looked right past her, she could tell that he hadn’t noticed her yet. She slowed down her steps as he walked by only a few inches to the side. Her breath slowed down as well. Carefully she reached out with her left hand as he was right next to her and navigated it under his cloak. Her fingers took hold of something, a bulging leather wallet. In a fracture of a second, she unfastened the buckle that connected the wallet to his belt, grabbed it and pulled it towards her. But acting under pressure, she had moved a little bit too fast. Her hand brushed the side of his hip as she pulled back. He would notice the touch and wondering about that, he would just as soon notice the missing wallet. Lotye tried to stay calm. The most prudent thing to do was to simply walk on. That was exactly what she did now, while the purse disappeared into a fold of her dress. She didn’t look back, knowing that in a matter of seconds, her victim would turn around and look for someone acting conspicuously. She walked on, slipped by a few groups of people and through a few alley and arches, out to a more open, crowded place of the city, were she felt safe again.

The wallet rested in a pocket close to her leg. It seemed to pulsate, to emit some strange warmth, but Lotye didn’t notice it consciously. She would stay around for a bit longer, exploring the city and looking for one or two more victims. Then she’d return to the place the circus camped at. Back in her wagon, she’d take a look at her prize.

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