“I’ll take a small portion of the broiled angler-fish, please. And … What do you want?” Lotye looked up to Peino to make his order.
“The same,” said Peino, pointing to two plump filets among the prepared batch resting in brine and lemon juice.
Without a word, the grillman slapped the fish, skin side down, on the grate with a promising sizzle of juices. Places like this were all the same in any port. Whatever was most plentiful in the season would be the menu. Fish would be brought in daily, sometimes twice a day, and the catches kept live in barrels, to be cleaned and prepped as demand warranted. Typically, they kept a regular schedule for regular traffic.
While the cook prodded the fish with a long spatula, Peino glanced around. The ends of the alley were lot beyond bends in the aged walls that closed in on either side. Benches crammed up under the shelter of the buildings’ overhangs created a bottleneck through which shoppers picked their way by turns, careful to avoid jostling the heads of those sitting and eating and ignoring the buskers whose songs masked all conversations.
As tight as a midship passage, Peino thought, comparing the situation to the inner workings of the Daughter. The rain was starting to come down with intent, bringing the smell of ocean and lightning.
“Excuse me sir, but we are looking for someone. Do you remember a man selling very interesting cards around here two days ago?” said Lotye.
Peino saw the dour merrow pause in the act of flipping the filets into folded sheets of newspaper. Playing again his role from the cloak-seller’s stand, Peino laid silver coins onto the board between them, counting out the price of the food. His hand lingered over the board, and the merrow’s eyes lingered on the selkie’s hand.
Another coin. The grillman handed the hot packets to Lotye.
“Not here today,” was all he said, the words growled around the stem of his pipe, as he scooped up the coins and turned away to kill another fish.
But Peino did catch the furtive glance towards the benches.
“Thank you,” he said. He led Lotye over to an empty spot and slid behind the long plank table to sit with his back to the wall. He urged Lotye to do the same beside him.
“You steered us true, sweet of my heart,” he said softly as he unwrapped his portion of fish, but the tease of the affectionate nickname was only fleeting. “This is the seller’s place, and he is no stranger to it. Now I wonder what other friends of his we may meet.”
They had not long to wait. No sooner were they seated than they were approached by a man and a woman, another couple but one feigning less togetherness than the prince and the thief. Their clothes were plain though not rough, and the simple masks and broad-brimmed hats pulled low hinted at the pragmatic side of Sesan fashion. Rising from the bench on the opposite side of the alley, from which they would have been able to watch the grillman’s stand, they stood over Peino and Lotye. The woman’s hand rested on the dagger in her belt. The man leaned invasively on the table.
“It’s easier to eat without the mask, friend,” he said.
— — —
“I’ll take an ale…” he said, leaning over the bar, “…and some information if it’s not too much trouble.”
The barman at the nameless tavern-back said nothing to Lafitte. The eorman, after all, had not yet asked a question. But he did hesitate, just in case his patron would put a use to that gold he was flashing. And if he would not, then perhaps someone else nearby would.
“Hoy, Ashcat,” called another drinker, “give us a mug of the amber, will you?”
“Aye.” The barman looked Lafitte in the eye. “Anything else?”
— — —
Jeneyeru smiled at the proceedings begun by Lafitte but declined to partake of the heavy ale. The black pearl of his Ring of Aura Field Detection remained dormant when aimed at the tavern, but something, somewhere was calling to it. Still, this barman — no wizard, but certainly a man of other talents — seemed promising in a way Jeneyeru thought Lafitte would be best equipped to exploit.
“Enjoy your refreshment, Captain,” he said, his mask hiding the slight wrinkling of his nose at the foaming mug. “I shall just toddle into the charm shop a moment.”
Let fighters learn from fighters, he thought, and wizards from wizards.
Leaving Lafitte with what he hoped would be a look of warning to be careful, he passed quickly to the charm shop.
The ring began to turn opalescent as soon as he was within range, revealing the magic inside. Nor was his arrival a surprise to the proprietor, similarly equipped. However, the actual appearance of the one whose powers had been detected was another matter.
The faerie, rising to greet her customer, paused, eyes widening at the sight of the staff in the fashionable elf’s hand.
“Master of Shadows, welcome.” She bowed. “How may I serve you?”
“Mistress of Enchantments.” Jeneyeru bowed in return. “Do you sell playing cards, by any chance?”
The enchanter’s thin face froze. It was the rapid exit of her friends, muttering farewells and avoiding eye contact with the carrier of the Luminous Shadow’s Staff of Ghosts, that seemed to set her on a path of decision.
“I do not, my lord.”
“Pity,” said Jeneyeru. “A friend acquired some in this lane, recently.”
The enchanter closed the flimsy shop door after the last of her friends.
“Your friend bought them here?” she asked guardedly.
“She stole them from one who did.”
Jeneyeru’s flat statement triggered a series of untrusting speculations, all visible in the faerie’s expression. The selkie, enormously tall and fine compared to the space he stood in, looked about as if he had not a care in the world — and well might he not, one such as he. The keeper of a tiny vest-pocket shop in a back alley could not afford to be so cavalier.
“My lord Master,” she said, “if your friend has got those cards, tell that friend to sell them for as much gold as can be had and never think of them again nor come here to seek more.”
“Why, Lady Enchanter,” Jeneyeru turned to fix his gaze upon the faerie, “pray, do explain yourself.”