Ch. 29. Disappointment and Enchantment

At the end of the day, the inhabitants of Sesus were a little bit poorer and Lotye a little bit richer. She returned to the circus with two more wallets in her undergarment. The first one had been easy to steal. It had been in possession of a rich merchant in a fur coat, who had been much too distracted by the festival around him to notice the slender hand slipping into his pocket. The second theft however, had been much more risky, as a guardian had watched her in the very wrong moment. Just with a lot of luck she had been able to wriggle out of his hold and then she had had to run. She had outrun her pursuers in this city she didn’t even know and afterwards spent some more time in some stinking hideout. Her way home from there had been an adventure for itself, the only bright spot in the whole story that she had been able to cling onto her swag all the time. But it seemed to have been worth it. With every step she made, Lotye heard the muffled sounds of coins. Also, there was the surprise content of the first wallet she had stolen. This one especially attracted her, her imagination already ran wild with it.

The sky was already darkening when she arrived at her cart. Now, in the evening hours, more people paid attention to the jugglers, fire-eaters and performers. Lotye slipped into her cart unnoticed and took the three wallets out of her dress and put them down on her wooden box. To raise her excitement even further, she opened the other two wallets first. Just as she had expected: Some coins, some personal papers, nothing special. But the money would at least bring her through for another few days. Then she turned her attention to the last purse. The first thing she felt as her fingers slid into the leather bag were two pieces of strong paper. Deeper down she found a scroll and a few small coins. She furled her brows. What is this? Lotye quickly emptied the wallet on her box. The coins clattered on the wood, the scroll fell out and last two cards. She couldn’t hide her disappointment when she saw them. They looked just like playing cards. Had someone really paid that much money for, and had she subsequently stolen, some simple playing cards?

Lotye took a closer look at them, turned the one lying upside down around. For what game those were meant she couldn’t tell, but there were a lot of games the sailors from all over Aeldreth brought with them. Those cards clearly belonged to a deck of playing cards. Both of them had pips marked in their corners, little red paintings that looked like drops of blood.  No, they clearly are drops of blood. Four and Seven. How she could tell this with such certainty she didn’t know, but she knew. Much more interesting though, were the pictures on the card.

The Four was terrible to look at, with three figures on it that only had a passing similarity to humans. But they were human, three old man, that thin that she was sure she would have been able to see every bone in their bodies if the painting had been any more detailed. They were dirty, their hair bad, beards a matted mess. Drool ran down from the corners of their mouths, hidden somewhere in the growth of their beards. They were naked, only covered by their hair. Their poses expressed great fear, they huddled in the shadows of what appeared to be the stone walls of a prison cell, their faces covered in dread with their own hands, as if they didn’t want her to see them. Yet, Lotye felt as if crazy green eyes were watching her through the gaps between the long fingers. Both with disgust and a strange fascination, Lotye laid the card down again.

The other card, the one with the seven drops of blood, was less scary to look at, at least in the first moment. but the longer she stared at it, the more she felt drawn to it, felt her heart beat faster. The picture showed a strange suit of armour. It stood upright and alone in a wild, unknown landscape. There was nobody inside; she could tell, because there was no helmet and no head. Yet the armour stood as if it was ready for battle, a mighty spear in his steel fist, a shield of unknown shape on the other arm. The background showed wide mountain ranges and a nearly impossible blue sky, a sky so wide that Lotye felt as if she could smell the mountain air. She couldn’t tell whether the armour stood vigilant or ready to strike down on an enemy, but it was both impressive and frightening. The longer she looked at it, the more she felt as if the head of the spear was pointed at her.

Those cards clearly were the work of an artist. At first, they hadn’t looked all that detailed, but the longer she stared at them, the more details she found. They even were a bit scary. But why would somebody spend this much money on something like this? Could I try to sell them for this price, too? With a sigh, Lotye stroke the two cards with her hand. This was a failure. The next time, I should steal the gold coins directly. But then she noticed a strange feeling in her hand. Like a crackle, a feeling as if something was interacting with her aura. So these cards were magic, somehow. Her limited knowledge didn’t allow her to find out what used they served, but she could tell that they were magic. So maybe they were worth their price, but reselling them still would be a big risk. For now, there were many other things to do. The scroll that had been in the same purse as the cards still lay at the edge of the box. She had completely forgotten about it.

How long she had spent looking at these cards, she couldn’t tell. But it seemed to have been longer than she would have thought. Outside the first lanterns and torches had been lighted. The happy going-ons continued. It was time for her to get to her business, too. She let the cards lay openly on the box, still thinking about what to do with them. Lotye put on her mask again and undid her braid, so that now her hair fell over her shoulders like a mysterious veil. With those preparations taken on herself, she moved on to the other preparations needed. Just next to her cart, she built a simple stall with two planks and a few poles. She opened the side cover of her cart and attached it to the poles, so that she had a roof of tarpaulin above her head now. This simple construction would be where her victims would spent money for nothing. Quickly she placed her “enchanted” items on the improvised counter. She had done this many times before. With a whispered spell she lighted the only lantern that would bath the stall in a shadowy twilight. A twilight that was her perfect ally, making her seem even more mysterious and making it even harder for the customers to really see what they were buying.

Taking the place behind the counter, Lotye became the skilled wizard and enchantress the people wanted to believe sold her items for cheap. Most of the time she kept quiet, not like other vendors who advertised their products loudly. She only spoke out of the half-light when someone showed interest, but she kept her voice low and the tone conspiratorial: “Good Sir, can I interest you in a knife with which you will never cut yourself? Or this beautiful pen? It will write twice as long with the same amount of ink. I’ve gone great lengths and travelled from afar to be able to make you these offers.” Or: “Milady, what a beautiful hairstyle you’ve got! Let me give you these enchanted hairpins and it will hold even in the worst weather. The price? Who talks about money in a matter of pure beauty?” Lotye could see it in their eyes: These people may not have made a decision yet, but they would come again later, they always did. She knew who to talk to.

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