Pellene stood on the far side of the street looking back and forth between the note in his hand and the rundown art shop across the street. He knew that the longer he stood here in the street the more conspicuous he would become. Besides, someone gave him this address so they would obviously be expecting him…wouldn’t they? He decided to risk it. If it looked at all suspicious once he got inside he could always say he was just looking to buy some ink. He crossed the street and went through the main entrance into the shop.
A tiny bell rang mutedly on the door as Pellene stepped inside. A thin man with an eccentric mustache leaned over a counter to peer around the corner with raised eyebrows and a bored expression. “May I help you, sir.”
Pellene flowed up to the counter and spoke in a confident tone. “Good morning to you sir. A message was delivered to my home inviting me to pay a visit to this establishment. I was wondering if you might in fact know what this invitation was in reference to.” Pellene looked sheepishly at the thin man and quickly added “Oh, I’m sorry. How rude of me. My name is Pellene Fuomodo…and you are?”
The man cocked his head slightly, brows still raised. “Cedric” he responded, “I do not know about a note but oddly enough a buyer did come into my shop looking for works of art from a Pellene. Are you by chance an artist?”
“Oh, well I am not officially licensed. I would not be able to sell anything. I work mainly as a scribe, but in my own time I try to keep up my skills at illustration. Would you happen to know who this buyer is?”
“License?” The thin man laughed a little too enthusiastically. “Does this look like a church? Do you see a priest? We don’t do religious art here, you silly little man. We may as well sell curtains or chairs as far as the church is concerned. License! You are hilarious.” A rueful expression briefly crossed the man’s face. “Though I admit the extra coin of proper licensing would be nice.” Then his face dropped instantly, and without warning, into a serious blank stare. “No you may not inquire as to the buyer. However, I will permit you to bring your little doodles here, and if someone purchases them you will be paid a percentage, if no-one purchases them you can either take them back or I’ll burn them when I’m tired of looking at them. That’s the deal, take it or leave it.” The man paused for a moment rapping his fingers on the counter and before Pellene could speak said. “Out with it, I haven’t got all day.”
Pellene was a bit shocked at the insulting manor in which he was being addressed, however he was beginning to become familiar with the no nonsense way the denizens of the slums handled their business. He hesitated only momentarily before he answered with “I gladly accept your offer Cedric. It will be nice to know that someone other than myself might find some enjoyment out of my…” he paused for effect “‘little doodles’. I have a small selection in my sketchbook you may look through now, however there are more in my apartment I could bring around later as well.”
The man lowered he head to the pages before him and said dismissively. “Pleasure doing business with you, you may leave anything you wish to sell on the counter, come back in a few days or a week and we’ll see how you’ve done for yourself.”
* * *
Several days passed while Ella searched fruitlessly for Pellene. She had reached the point where she thought she must have asked the same contacts the same questions at least 2 or 3 times. For the last day Ella had suspected that she must not know anybody that had ever heard of Pellene or would know where to find him. True, most of her associates were illiterate con-artists, whores, and thieves, so it probably made sense that none of them would know a scribe or even really where to look for scribes. She even tried asking around randomly and had visited 2 or 3 scribners. They had some knowledge of their competitors, of which there were at least several dozen spread throughout the enormous city, but they were reluctant to direct potential customers to them. And when Ella brought up Pellene’s name there wasn’t even a spark of recognition. From this Ella could only conclude that he wasn’t very important.
That was perhaps the most frustrating thing of all. Now her main source of income was apparently dependent on an insignificant scribe, and one that she was utterly failing at tracking down. By the evening of the third day of her search Ella decided to revisit the Rat Cellar. She suspected that she had as much chance bumping into Pellene there as randomly searching all the scribners in the city. Besides her focus on Pellene has kept her away from seeing Kat for the last two days, assuming she hadn’t gotten arrested, and Ella still felt there was unfinished business there.
* * *
Kat was anxious. Where was Bella? After the first day Kat assumed she probably had some very important business and Kat just went about her serving at the Rat Cellar as normal.
When Bella didn’t visit the Cellar the second night the anxiety really kicked in. Did I blow it? she had begun to think. Did my recklessness when I saw Fabine drive her away? Kat wasn’t certain but she tried to convince herself that she was being silly, and anyway, if that Bella girl didn’t want to have anything to do with her, so be it, Kat could find someone else to help her rescue Fabine and get her out of the Cellar. Who was she kidding?
Fortunately Kat’s anxiety didn’t last long. Early on the evening of the third night the door swung open and the woman named Bella walked in.
* * *
Ella walked into the Rat Cellar wearing her usual peasant disguise. She knew Kat was her best chance of finding Pellene, and was delighted to see she wasn’t captured by the city guard.
Kat knew that playing it calm was the only way she would get a chance to work with Bella again. As Bella took a table, Kat grabbed a tray and went to clean a near-by table first. When it was successfully cleaned, she walked over to Bella’s table. “Good evening. What can I get you?”
She smiled as Kat came to take her order. “A slice of pigeon pie and water, please. And tell the barkeep not to give me the usual swill he serves from the horse’s trough. I don’t feel like spending tonight bent over my chamber pot.” She raised her eyebrows, giving Kat a knowing look, “After all, I have important business to conduct tomorrow.”
“Right away Miss. I’ll get it myself. There are only so many people you can trust these days.” Kat said as she walked away.
In the kitchen she was happy, but unsurprised to see it empty. No one worked here when they were supposed to. As she thought about how to get Bella alone, she realized more than ever how reading and writing was something she needed to learn to play these games. But that would take time so she would have to find a way to get Bella what little information she had since that boy, Pellene, never returned. She had a feeling Bella may still want to find him if she hadn’t already.
As she returned to the table and served Bella she said, “I hope this is to your liking. There haven’t been many customers ordering the pie these days. Even that scribe hasn’t been in to order it and I think its his favorite.”
“I suppose the scribe and I share similar interests,” Ella said while looking skeptically at her plate. “How old is this?”
“At least a day…”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose,” sighed Ella as she grabbed her fork. “So why the hasty exit last time we met?”
“Well, I…” Kat scratched her scar on impulse, “…I saw someone I thought was dead in the slave auction.”
“Oh no, that’s terrible! Given your reaction, I’m guessing this particular someone was important to you?”
“Aye…” Kat gazed off into the distance as she remembered the first day she met Fabine. “He saved me when I first ran away from the orphanage. He taught me how not to starve.”
“An important skill to have.” Ella paused. “I’m sorry, Kat. I can only imagine what you must going through.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “No one should be kept a slave, ever.”
Kat inhaled. Bella was the first person to ever express something like this to her. Was it a trap? Or was she being sincere?
“I just wish I could find out where he is and see if there is a way to get him out. Its already been two years since he was arrested. What if he can’t take anymore?”
“That will likely depend on his master,” said Ella as she thought about the lashings her father used to give slaves. He wasn’t the cruelest slave owner, but his temper often got the better of him. “Perhaps we can help each other out. My employer… ahem, former employer, was none too pleased about us meddling into his business. If you can help me locate our aspiring artist, I will do my best to help you locate your friend.”
“Ok. I don’t know much more then I have already told you, but I am willing to do anything to get my friend free. Thank you Bella.”
* * *
The following day Ella met Kat in the Rat Cellar. She brought along a short list of scribes she had compiled over the last few days, apprentices and shop owners in areas that she was familiar with. She presented the list to Kat. Kat scanned the list once or twice and handed it back to Ella.
“I can’t read.” She said.
Ella apologized for her presumption and then read the list to Kat hoping that one of the names would sound familiar.
“Tulsin Farrow… Farrow. Where do I know that name from?” Kat said aloud. After dwelling on the name for what seemed like hours, she remembered that Fabine used to be friends with a boy named Farrow, though she didn’t think the first name was right. She remembered that Fabine had even involved him in a couple of petty thefts before his parents, merchants of modest wealth, forbade him from associating with the local riff-raff.
It was the best lead they had so Ella and Kat visited the shop where Tulsin worked. Seeing Kat, Tulsin nearly called the town guard. He was a cousin of the Farrow that Kat had known, and was quite familiar with the trouble that had been caused by the association. Ella quickly soothed the situation and insisted that they would be out of his hair quickly if he could just tell them if he knew a scribe named Pellene.
He grumbled at them but quickly identified a man named Pellene, an illustrator of ill-repute who was kicked out of religious school and became a scribe. Tulsin had briefly worked in the same shop as Pellene before leaving for a more lucrative offer. Ella and Kat left the shop with Pellene’s location, filled with both hope and anxiety.
Ella wanted to make an impression on Pellene, and decided to wear one of her mother’s gowns that her father had kept after she passed away. Though she was loathe to do so, she sold most of the dresses and jewelry she took with her before fleeing to Olivius, using the profit to buy various disguises and fill her belly. She was offered a handsome sum for her current gown, but couldn’t bring herself to sell it. She loved how its intricate golden inlays meandered through the smooth moss green fabric. She wore a blonde wig to match the inlays, as well as a simple golden necklace with a ruby pendant. A trained eye would recognize the gem as a well-polished red garnet, but its proximity to her cleavage ensured decent folk wouldn’t give it much scrutiny and the indecent ones would be looking elsewhere.
Ella and Kat met at the Rat Cellar once again. Kat was overwhelmed by Ella’s dress, struck speechless. It reinforced her conviction that Ella was a person to stick with, there really was more to her than met the eye. As Kat stood there Ella offered Kat a slightly less soiled dress to wear and ushered her into her small room off the bar. Kat changed quickly and then left with Ella to meet up with Pellene.
“Well, Kat” said Ella as they walked, “I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you how important this meeting is. I have a knack for procuring valuable information, but that information is useless without a buyer. Pellene is my only possible avenue for selling secrets or finding new clients. Without him, we’ll both be spending our nights in the Rat Cellar. He can’t know how dire my… sorry, our situation is.”
Kat nodded, all the while wondering what Fabine was doing now. Was he healthy? Sure Kat was interested in Ella’s business, it sounded profitable. But for now she figured the sooner they met Pellene the sooner Ella could focus on looking for Fabine.
It wasn’t long before they stood outside the shop where Pellene worked. They looked at each other for a moment, then Ella nodded and stepped forward into the shop.
Pellene looked up from his work at the sound of the bell on the door. A woman of obvious wealth had just entered the shop with an attractive servant woman at heel. The woman was so well dressed that Pellene wondered what she was doing in a shop as small as this.
[Pellene, feel free to introduce yourself]
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