“There they go,” said Jeneyeru Nightwise as Lotye dragged Peino off. A wry but gentle smile played about the wizard’s lips beneath the rosy hues of the seashell half mask. He turned to Jean Lafitte.
“Now, Captain, where would you like to begin? As I survey our side of the lane, I see the tavern and the charm shop as the most likely candidates. How say you — shall you ask the questions while I read the auras? I shall gladly follow you, sir.”
— — —
The mask Peino Starhand wore obscured his entire face, which was fortunate for Lotye’s ruse because it hid the raised eyebrow and broad grin at her boldness.
A proper little spit-fire, this one, he thought.
Indeed, from the moment she had spoken up at the embassy apartment, this questionable lady with the tethering bracelet on her wrist — he could feel it against his own wrist right now — who had at first seemed so shy and tentative, had appeared more and more a lively lass, in the selkie’s eyes. Cunning and forward, true to her calling, no doubt. The way he held her arm, elbows looped, cradling her hand in his, when she pulled him close showed his opinion of the type.
Such were Starhand’s thoughts. Those of the clothier were perhaps less admiring. The prosperous merchant-woman looked up at the disparate couple with weary disinterest. If her eyes had been mirrors, they might have reflected the image of just another eager girl duping herself into thinking the obviously much wealthier man from whose arm she hung was pledging his heart by spending his gold on her.
Still, a sale is a sale, and so the dwarfish woman, sitting broad in her brocaded gown, her gold-bound braids laying over her bosom, let the girl prattle while her man-for-the-day nodded silently to everything she said and poked with his free hand through some of the cloaks laid out on the boards.
But when the young woman said something about the dealer she sought being shady, the clothier’s expression became noticeably guarded.
“I wouldn’t know about such things, Miss, I’m sure,” she said. “Festivals bring out all sorts, if you please, and I couldn’t answer for them that come and go.” She glanced at Lotye’s hand teasing the umbrella handle. “Would you care to test that one, Miss?”
“Yes, my dear, test it,” said Peino, “and if it suits, we shall have it. Some of these rain cloaks as well.” He pulled out neatly folded garments made from the stretched and cured skins of fish, glimmering, delicate, and waterproof, as heavy drops plopped on the awning above them. “Seems the day for them, eh, love?”
The shopkeeper smiled as he began to count out coins from his pocket, and Peino took the advantage.
“As fine as your cloaks are, Mistress, my lady has her heart set on those cards for a gift. So them that come and go, where do they go when they come?”
“If you please, milord, the tavern always sees a fair round of strangers…”
Peino pulled out a third cloak but seemed uncertain about it.
“And the fish-stand you might try. Plenty loiter there all day who would know more than I about that end of the lane and who has come or gone, at least, milord, down that end of the way.”
She eyed him nervously, trying to read his reaction through the expressionless mask. Three cloaks and a bumbershoot in a single sale was not to be passed up even if it came with awkward questions.
Peino rewarded her with more coins, which the woman scooped up quickly, delivering the traditional thank-you blessings with sincerity.
He released Lotye’s arm to shake out one of the rain cloaks and lay it over her shoulders, the silvery skins with their iridescent stripes draping softly. A second cloak he swung easily around himself to cover the blue silk coat.
“At your pleasure, sweetheart,” he said, the glint of laughter in his dark eyes again.