Back | Next

Chapter 2 — Errands

Before she finished her breakfast, Uncle Galo was giving her tasks. “I need this,” “I need that.” It was enough to drive a person crazy. He also wanted her to give Fellfang a walk. Sonata refused. He could take his own damn dog out for a pee. Uncle Galo wasn’t so old that he couldn’t walk down a couple flights of stairs. Besides, it would do him good to get down to ground-level and breathe air unburdened with fog and brackish river water.

Sonata finally agreed to run his other errands, after taking a warm, wet cloth to her neck and face. She had to at least get the grime of travel off her skin first. She would have preferred a full bath, but a modest scrubbing would do for now.

She took the stairs down to Flores Street and walked north through the morning throng of Viscano citizens. Uncle Galo’s apartment lay in one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Cragsport, right above the flower-and-café district. It was a rich segment of town, its people reaping the benefits of the province’s trade and military successes. Borshen Galo had acquired his wealth during the wars three decades ago. Now he lived a comfortable life above the bustle of the crowds. Most of them didn’t even know that a famed, and very dangerous, wizard lived just above their streets.

Sonata tried not to think of such things. The day was shaping up to be sunny and warm, and she wasn’t about to let thoughts of her selfish uncle ruin it. She pressed on through the crowd and breathed deeply.

Despite her disdain for Cragsport in general, there was one thing she liked about it: the people. All different colors and walks of life. Once outside the internal security walls of the wealthy districts, the streets teemed with the browns and blacks of Pontaboro expatriates and the bleach whites of the Corodana Islands. Coming to live with her uncle was wonderful, life-saving in fact, but she missed living in the heat of the sprawl, in the Boca do Dragão, the Mouth of the Dragon, as some called it.

Cragsport sat on a bluff overlooking the Doro River. The steep, obsidian-black escarpment on the bank had been bricked over centuries ago. Now, the east wall of the city, called The Jaw, rested in the river itself and protected Cragsport from collapsing.

To the west and northwest lay a ring of tall, sharp crags called The Dragon’s Teeth, and between them ran a single passage called The Red Road, so named because of its rough black granite purposely painted red at city’s edge to represent the bright crimson of the Dragon’s Tongue. Sonata scoffed at the pretension of the whole thing. Such architectural decisions and naming conventions had been made centuries before she had even been born, and reflected the arrogance of the Gregano Empire which had ruled Mirada ages ago and had made Cragsport its capital. There were no such thing as dragons, then or now, and certainly not one large enough to have died and coughed up a city in its death throes. What stupidity! For Viscano leaders to have embraced such fanciful nonsense was absurd. Men had made the city, men had named its parts, and men would eventually bring it down.

Sonata tipped a guard with one of the gold coins she had held back from her uncle, then passed through the gate from one district to another.

Now, she was home.

She’d grown up in these streets, knew them well, and had no trouble stealing from them. She loved them, she hated them. Sometimes, her feelings didn’t make sense to her. There was a time when she had cried every night thinking about them, when she had first left them to live with Uncle Galo. Those were tough months. Memories of her mother, memories of cold nights, hard rice, a dead baby brother. The thought of it all still chilled her. But she loved the people, and the person she had to visit first was Madam Carla.

Mirada’s finest brothel lay between a butcher shop and a wine distillery. You could eat, have a bit of night-time fun, and drink sloppy all in the span of thirty yards. It was a strip of road the locals called The Stop, Fuck, and Go. But there was no one as friendly, and as ruthless, as Madam Carla. Her exploits rivaled that of Uncle Galo’s. Her ladies were protected from any man that tried to leave bruises on her precious charges. No one could harm them, except Madam Carla herself of course, and she was not above using the crop.

“Sonata!” a very tall, emaciated Madam Carla said, her arms open wide to receive. “My girl!”

Sonata felt small in the madam’s arms, her face pushed deep into her flat, boney chest. It was difficult to breathe, but Sonata endured it. It had been Madam Carla who had helped her and her mother through many tough times.

Madam Carla pulled away, then poked a long finger into Sonata’s chest. “Nice tits, girlie. Cast off your disreputable thievery and come work for me. Your dark, porcelain-smooth skin would surely bring the boys to call. And it’d be consistent pay… something you don’t get in your current line of work.”

Sonata pushed the probing digit away. “Never. Not even in a dragon’s lifetime.”

Madam Carla bleated like a goat. Sonata winced. The mistress had the most annoying laugh in Cragsport; skull-rattling, in fact. One wondered how any man could endure a moment of it, but then, it wasn’t Madam Carla they came to see.

Sonata looked around. It was early morning, so there weren’t too many ladies in attendance. There was a blonde she recognized, and a brunette. A sallow-skinned Corodana lay sleeping on a couch, her exposed shoulders lined red with whip marks. Madam Carla’s work, no doubt. What had the girl done? Sonata wondered. Come to work in this? Sonata shook her head slowly. Not even if she were starving.

“Come in, come in,” Madam Carla said, pulling Sonata along. “Talk to me. You’ve been gone too long. Off killing things, I assume?”

“Just a little northern travel,” Sonata said. Then she whispered, “For Uncle Galo.”

Very few knew that she was the wizard’s niece. He preferred it that way. Sonata couldn’t decide if it was because he didn’t want his notoriety to follow her, or if it was because, if she died in the line of duty, he didn’t want the trail to lead back to him. Through his myriad connections, Uncle Galo had secured her name change. She was a Diamante from then on. It was an ancient and rarely used bastard surname, and quite appropriate for her line of work. She was no jewel thief, though many of the trinkets she acquired were just as precious.

Madam Carla sat her down and offered tea. Sonata accepted out of politeness, but said, “I’m sorry, Madam, but I cannot stay long. I’m here on official business.”

Madam Carla’s expression changed. Her smile disappeared in a scowl. “That rake of a man! Can’t he give you five minutes of freedom?”

Sonata sipped and smiled. “You know my uncle.”

“What’s he need this time?” Madam Carla asked.

Sonata set the tea cup down, cleared her throat and said, “Some hair.”

Madam Carla balked. “Hair? What for?”

Sonata shook her head. “It’s for some potion he’s planning.”

“I just bet.” Madam Carla leaned into the hallway and yelled, “Estela!”

A moment later, the pale Corodana appeared. Sonata looked at her. The foreigner’s eyes were radiant, deep inset blue with specks of gold. The Island people of Corodana were so beautiful. Some considered them ghosts, walking dead, and feared them. Madam Carla’s clients loved their exotic nature. Sonata herself couldn’t help but feel a touch of warmth in Estela’s presence.

Estela peered at Sonata. It wasn’t a friendly stare. Perhaps she was still smarting from the whipping she’d gotten. Sonata suddenly felt uncomfortable. She looked at her tea.

“Bend your head!” Madam Carla ordered. The Corodana reluctantly did so, letting her fine white locks cascade over her face.

Madam Carla took a small knife from her pocket and grabbed a lock. Estela winced at the madam’s casual harshness as she carved away at the bright strands. “I’m sorry, miss,” Sonata said, trying to be supportive.

If she could, Sonata would close down every brothel in Cragsport. The idea of them disgusted her, but what could she do? The practice was so ensconced in the culture, so accepted even at the highest levels of government, so institutionalized, the mere thought of its eradication sent a ripple through the state. Religious groups and even past dukes had tried to curb the practice, and some succeeded for a time. But it always crept back into place.

But without Madam Carla, Sonata and her mother would have died on the streets many times over. Often, Madam Carla allowed her mother to work here as a maid and cook. In the deepest winter, a madam’s hospitality was the only thing between them and death. Sonata would never forget that.

Where had Uncle Galo been during all this turmoil and discontent in her life, Sonata had wondered more than once. Why had he allowed his own flesh and blood to live in squalor, moving from place to place, not knowing when the next meal or bed would come? Part of his time, Sonata knew, had been spent on The Divide in battle against the Pontaboro. But for the last five years before mother had died, he had lived in Cragsport and had been more than capable of helping. But there was some history between him and his sister that Sonata didn’t understand, and Uncle Galo refused to explain.

Madam Carla tucked the knife away and patted the Corodana on the head. “Run along now, Estela, and earn your keep.”

The girl bowed and left quickly.

Madam Carla wrapped the cuttings in a small cloth and handed them over. “My money?” she said, leaving her hand out flat.

Sonata dug in her bag and took out two coins, one silver, one gold. Madam Carla looked at them with insult. “That’s all?”

Sonata shrugged. “Take it up with uncle. That’s all he gave me.”

Of course that wasn’t true, but business was business. As much as she loved Madam Carla, no one deserved two gold coins for a few measly locks of hair.

“Well, then, I guess we’re done here, aren’t we?” Madam Carla snatched the tea cup from Sonata’s hand. “Tell Borshen Galo I’m going to slit his throat one of these days.”

“With pleasure.”

Sonata knew she meant it, but Madam Carla was not in a position to do anything of the sort. More likely, it would be Uncle Galo who would bring Madam Carla’s business down. But a woman in her position had to maintain the illusion of power and strength. It would not do to let her “girlies” think her weak.

Sonata stole a kiss on Madam Carla’s cheek and then stepped out onto the porch. “Glad to see you again, sweetie,” she said.

Madam Carla nodded. “Stay out of trouble, girlie. Drop by again soon.”

Sonata turned into the street, ignoring the stares of two guardsmen walking past her.

She didn’t want Nathyn Sombrio to know of her return… yet.

Back | Next