Dogleg Hinterland 3

Shaking her head free of bad dreams, clutching her empty stomach, she made her way towards her appointment, trying to compose herself as she walked along. The thoughts birthed in the nightmare troubled her like a fishbone stuck in her throat; she attenuated her breathing and repeated a little mantra that was supposed to cage this kind of bad ju-ju. She had to be on top form – it was well known that you couldn’t trust Regrew even if he was your best friend, so casual acquaintances really had to watch themselves.

The walk seemed to take forever, the road doubling back on itself in several places. There were no short-cuts – getting off the fixed direction the road wished you to go in was dangerous – you might snag yourself on some spell-bone left jutting to capture careless burglars. You might break a hold-web and find yourself dropping from the roof paralysed and destined to break apart on the hard ground below. The Inn Spires of this settlement occupied concentric circles which were divided by a complex system of heredity, influence, race, and luck – part of her upbringing in the trade had involved extensive study of the customs which governed the delicate machinery of the society they, as merchants, had to interact with.

Lizardkind tended to occupy the third circle and were said to have a hard time progressing beyond that – the fact that Bartolph Regrew had moved into the second circle and looked likely to move up into the first circle very soon spoke volumes. If she played this right she would be able to eat well for a long time, and if she managed to convince that the merchandise she wanted to sell him was somehow tied into the desired ascent she might be able to ride his coattails to even greater heights.

It was noon when she reached Regrew’s abode, and it was not easy persuading the guard on the door to let her in. They tried to trick you into promising something of yourself in return for entrance, and there was nothing with which she wished to part at any cost, apart from of course the dreamstuff.

Regrew was Geckoskin; not one of the common Lizardkind, and that perhaps explained his rapid rise in a place where being exotic was a definite boon. She looked into his large eyes and muttered an anti-glamour under her breath; he was quite beautiful and she knew immediately that this made him doubly dangerous.

‘So, little girl, where is your mother?’

‘What? I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Hmm, you’ll have to do better than that. Your mother child – what has happened to her. I heard about your father, so that needs no explanation. Please, it must be obvious to you that I can see through the illusion you have tried to weave about yourself. I have farsight; it is one of the gifts that allows me to be a better salesman in this place. Just tell me the truth and we can get it out of the way – try to lie and we might have a problem. I’ll know.’

‘She joined the Whispergate Sentinels.’

‘And you haven’t seen her in a while?’

‘No; I haven’t.’

‘Okay, now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now the plan is, or at least my plan is – that you eat and then you rest and then we do business tomorrow. I know you were worried that I wouldn’t deal with you because you are so young but, Madrigal, there are very few of your kind left anymore, and I need the services of someone such as you; so, you see, I never really had a choice.’

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