Soot on the Fireplace

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 Soot covered the walls around the perimeter of the fireplace tiles, like a small child fighting to color within the lines. There was a light spot in the soot like someone had scribbled with a finger. She chose a high-back woven reed chair close to the fireplace and in the farthest corner, facing the door, with her back to the stained walls. Waving away the approach of the sullen slouching mead maid, she nervously played with the folds of her long dark skirt, watching the door.

Malicson came through the door in his usual brusk rush and nodded to her, before making a drinking motion with his hand to the suddenly much cheerier mead maid. In three strides he was at the fireplace and settling into a large carved wood chair, by far the best seat in the small  room.

“How be you, Katydid?” he asked her.

She smiled at the nickname. “Better now,” she said. “But I fear…”

He raised his hand slightly to quiet her as the mead maid approached with his drink.

“Thank you darlin,” he crooned and tucked a few coins into the pocket of her apron. She blushed and curtsied and backed out of the room slowly. When the inner door was shut he took a long draught of the beer, both hands clenched around the mug.

“You charmer you,” she murmured.

“Not charm, love,” Malicson said. There was foam above his upper lip. “Just keeping loose lips hopefully sealed.”

She made a wiping motion to her own lips. He grinned and with one long finger swiped the foam off his lip. He leaned forward and presented the finger to her. Keeping her eyes on his, she bent half out of her chair and took his finger into her mouth….sucking the foam off it.

His face went blank. “Who’s the charmer now?” he said.

“No time for spooning nonsense, Malic,” she said. “I need to know what the primson hell my mother is up to. That’s why we’re here. I chose this place because this street is spell blocked by the Chartlatain family living two houses up.”

He sighed and drank the rest of his beer. “It’s no good Katy,” he said somberly. “Your mother has started movement to shut down the pavilion palace. She’s weaving her loom with threads pulling in all directions and one of those threads is you. There’s talk that you are a threat.”

“Me?” she said. “Why in Clamant’s Ring would I be a threat? I couldn’t possible keep my head any lower. I’d be eating mugbugs out of the gutter.”

“I don’t know why yet,” he said. “But it’s a very real rumor. I trust the people who have told me.”  He glanced at the sooty wall to the left of the fireplace and stood up quickly. “What is this place Katy? Where have you brought us?”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“That mark by the fireplace, where the soot is. That’s the emblem of the Cannarego Society. They’re a nasty bunch.”

There was a thump outside the front door.

He yanked her up out of her chair. “Let’s do hope there’s a back way out of this place,” he said. “Otherwise, your mother will be the least of our worries.”

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