fell to the bottom of a wishing well

POSTED: Wed Oct 02, 2019 5:37 pm

1824

Backdated to sometime in late June.

Portland was the same as she remembered it, though the buildings felt smaller and squatter, and the careworn faces of fishermen and traders no longer felt imposing. She attributed this to age; some half a year ago she’d fled this place in the wake of her brother’s death, unable or unwilling to face the guilt.

Since arriving she’d been plagued by ill dreams of a boy suspended in ice, and she wondered sometimes when she looked at her mother if she still tried to swim to the bottom of that damnable lake. If she did, there was no sign of her; there wasn’t a single crack or symptom of weakness in her marriage to Indra, either. The loss of one of their sons had, if nothing else, given them something in common beyond their martial prowess.

They spoke of many things during the daytime – Salsola, friends of theirs that remained, Portland – and others at night when her siblings were abed, lulled to sleep by the sound of nearby waves. Baltasar remained insufferable and wished to know if there were any girls of note, refusing to accept that she hadn’t noticed if there were any. When she reminded him that her interests lay elsewhere, he gave her an appraising look that was too similar to her own, and she left him for the company of her sister.

Theirs was a complicated relationship, and had they been more similar it would have been a bitter rivalry, she had no doubt. Lyra’s facile wit and interactions brought her more joy now than they ever had as a child, and after some four or five months of separation, Clementine measured up to more than most of those that her sister encountered. This made her useful, but more than that it made her worthy, and these were things her sister appreciated.

Loathe as she was to be separated from them, it was often necessary. Of the four, Indra understood that business came before everything else, for even marriage hadn’t dulled her sense of duty. For days at a time she would disappear, but this was something that would never change. More importantly, she possessed a dragon’s hoard of tradable items, not to mention the debts she collected from innumerable seaside denizens.

When Clementine politely asked about their origins, Indra met her gaze with steel.

Some things were simply better left unresolved.

With her mother’s permission, she perused the items in question and selected a few, adding them to a small treasure trove of things that had come for her from Onuba. Times being what they were and the Sanctum’s Curse lingering over Salsola proper, trade had slowed. Even before that, however, Salsola had remained closed off under Elphaba’s rule as it hadn’t under Salvia’s. In lieu of wealth, they had begun to cultivate an air of occult secrecy.

At her brother’s insistence, she visited a bar along the dock where many of the sea folk found themselves during the day. One such place, reeking of smoke and stale beer, was where she found her first lead. He was an extremely tall man and capably built, with broad shoulders and a dark face mask. Nestled in this mask, his dark pine-colored eyes gave nothing away.

You’re the sister? He asked when she found him, and it was less of a question and more of a wonderment.

Were you expecting someone else? She asked politely, watching as he cracked his knuckles. A set of playing cards were splayed out on the worn table in front of him, some of their faces speckled with dry beer.

Nah cher. He admonished with a strange lilt, his mouth hardening with silent disapproval of this sentiment. This spiraled on into silence, and Clementine realized with growing awareness that this was a man of few words.

He told me you’re a smith of some sort, She explained conversationally. do you have a forge in Portland?

The man, neither young nor old, shook his head, confirming her fears; her brother had sent her to a dead end. He really was just as useless as she’d always thought he’d be.

Setting up a workshop isn’t as easy as you’d think, He explained, moving the cards around on the table. Picking two up, he set them together in a teepee. without the right materials, it just falls apart.

With a tap, the cards collapsed into a heap.

That’s a shame, She admitted sincerely, a shadow of defeat darkening her face. with a proper smithy, you could make a fortune.

He didn’t seem to agree or disagree with this; in truth, he didn’t seem to care. As she spoke, he gestured for the owner of the establishment, who came over with more beer – which turned out to be mead upon further inspection – with an alacrity that surprised her. Clearly, this man was a long-time patron.

If it’s trade you’re after, I might know someone, He said after quaffing nearly half the mug. His eyes leveled with her, and she raised a brow in answer. for a price, of course.

Of course. She responded mindlessly, but her mind was careening, whirling through the endless possibilities. Without knowing his motivations, anything about his life, where he’d been, or even his name, it was difficult for her to predict what on this green earth he might desire in return for services rendered.

I’ll let you know. He confirmed, making a shooing gesture with three fingers. Taking her leave, she dickered with the owner of the establishment for a moment or two before agreeing on the worth of the drinks her contact had drunk, plus two or three, and the promise that she'd return forthwith with their agreed upon price.

In the days that followed, Clementine began to doubt his sincerity. Soon – very soon – she would need to embark on her return trip to the Thistle Kingdom, and she was loathe to show up empty handed. She discussed this with both of her parents, one of whom smiled a little at her impatience, while the other remained silent.

Two days before she was supposed to leave, she was nearly beside herself. A knock made her jump, and she threw the door open so quickly she nearly toppled the woman standing in the doorway. She had a face that would have been pretty two or three years ago, and a waistline that suggested she might’ve had a litter or two of children, and wore bright, gaudily dyed clothes that suggested sunshine or merriment; her eyes, on the other hand, were vaguely sad.

I have a note for you. She explained, her hands rigid at her sides.

I paid his tab, Explained Clementine, feeling harried.

Yes, Admitted the woman, who looked nervous. but you haven’t paid me.

Frowning, Clementine instructed the woman to wait. In the room she shared with her siblings, she kept a half-melted plastic bottle with scent in it, left behind because it was weaker than what she had access to in Salsola and some of it had been used. It was worth as much if not more than what this woman was prepared to deliver.

Here, She thrust it before her upon returning, tilting it this way and that. it’s scent.

The woman examined it, pried the top open, and took a whiff. Nodding, she extracted the letter from a fold in her dress and handing it over. Unfolding it and examining the contents – two lines – she frowned.

You were supposed to bring this yesterday! She exclaimed, shaking the letter.

The woman, however, shrugged her shoulders as if this could not possibly be helped and turned away, in a hurry to be away from this place. Slamming the door louder than intended, Clementine hurried to dress and select items for a basket before rushing out the door for herself, the note itself left behind on a table.


Tomorrow at noon,
the seaside near the docks.


The coastline was devoid of others at this time of day; the best time to fish was either very early, or very late in the day. Under an overcast sky, she paced the beach, sand devouring her toes and the basket under her arm pressing shapes into her skin where her fur was thinnest.

On the verge of giving up, she kicked a stone into the swirling grey-green water.

Careful, habibi, Thrummed a voice, startling Clementine. Her vaunted powers of observation had failed her; some thirty feet away, a woman was strolling toward her. At first glance the resemblance to the man in the bar was striking, and as she grew closer it was obvious.

did you hurt yourself? Asked the woman with summer blue eyes, and the mischievous glint in her eye nearly turned Clem’s knees to water.

She wasn’t like her mothers – not really, anyway – and she thought she’d known something of persuasion, but this was altogether a different gift. It was just as dangerous and ran like a current between them, alluring and seductive.

No, She denied this, wiggling her toes as proof. are you my contact?

I am, Said the woman, a staff coming to rest over her shoulder. On the far end of it, a burgeoning satchel had been tied. She looked like a runaway whose ideas of escape had been conjured out of storybook fairy tales. that’s good, it would be bad for us to get off on the uh, wrong foot.

Apparently pleased with this joke, she allowed a self-congratulatory laugh before nodding, her smile oozing charisma and confidence.

With that, they settled into business, making small talk as they went. Setting their wares down on the sand between them, the other woman immediately divided what Clem had brought into three piles: things she wanted, things she might want, and things she didn’t. Taking her cue, the Salcedo woman did the same, taking a moment here and there to examine the other for signs of subterfuge or ill-intent.

Oddly, she found none, only a trickster’s penchant for laughter.

I’ll take the plastic bottles, the marijuana, the candles, and the gold chain, Explained the woman, waving a hand dismissively at the other items. and I’ll give you… the cloth, flour, needles, and salt.

I don’t want the needles or salt, Clementine explained, and the back-and-forth bartering that was nearly bickering began, occasionally accompanied by the cry of a gull overheard or a frustrated hand-wave of the other woman.

In the end, she accepted the cloth, flour, a utility knife, and tobacco.

Are you pleased? She asked aloud as they shook hands, having recollected their things.

More or less, Agreed the other woman with a self-congratulatory smile. are you?

More or less.


Salsola
The Arbiter
User avatar
Lorraine
Mercante light of the North

Canon