The next morning, as soon as I awoke I went to the Hatchling. I explained to Milda that I would need the day off to handle some of Jon’s last affairs. Of course Milda was more than understanding of the situation and told me to return to work when I was ready. I did not have the heart to tell her I would have to return to work the next day, or risk falling further into debt.
I stepped out of the Hatchling’s doors and into the bright morning light of the market square. I had not left the inner city in months, and I certainly had never done so alone. I thumbed the dagger I had slipped into my belt, and double checked the small coin purse in the pocket of my bodice. Where I was going, I would need to be brave.
As I worked my way through the inner city and towards the outer wall, I felt the dread growing in my gut. The morning was already warm it was going to be a humid day down in the outer city. I arrived at the gate some time later, city guards were recording papers and shipments of merchants traveling to the markets of the inner city. A guard stepped away from the shadow of the wall to stop me, his shining bronze armor glinting in the morning light, one hand rested on his sword hilt while the other was hooked through his belt. His gold and white cloak flying out behind him.
“Ma’am do you realize you are leaving the inner city,” He asked holding up a chainmail covered hand.
“I do realize this; I need to see my uncle he runs a merchant yard down at the wharf.” I said curtly.
“The outer city is no place for a lady,” He began, “Where is your chaperonin?” He asked.
“I do not have one, nor do I need one, I will be fine, please let me pass,” Behind the man’s helm I saw his eyes narrow in concern. “I am no noble lady, my late husband was a banker, I grew up in the outer city, I think I will be all right on my own.”
“Be aware, ma’am that the gate closed at dusk, if you are not back through by that time you will have to find lodging in the outer city,” The guard said, not unkindly.
“Thank you for your concern, I plan to be back long before dusk.” I said, smiling at the man behind the helm.
“Good luck,” He said, as he let me pass through the archway of the gate, the ten foot thick stone walls loomed over me as I walked beneath them. The heavy iron clad wooden gates stood open into the outer city.
The wooden buildings replace sturdy stone and brick structures, the cobblestones were loose and weather worn. The air here was thick with smoke from the communal soup kitchens. The air felt heavier here, as though the hope and happiness had been drained from it, and all that was left was the heavy suffering of the less fortunate. I remembered growing up on these streets, my father had been rich as far as the outer city was concerned, and it had made him many friends and more enemies. The home we had lived in near the wharf was extravagant by outer city standards, the home had been my refuge from the horrible conditions most young women in the outer city had to live in.
My hand stayed close to the dagger in my belt as I pushed through the throngs of people that crowded the narrow streets. I had worn my plainest dress in an attempt to blend in, but it seemed in my months within the inner city, I had forgotten just what the people here dressed like. My dress was too finely made to blend in, the fabric to fresh and undamaged, the color just a bit too bright to look like natural wool or linen. As I journeyed through the cramped narrow streets or the outer city, I collected looks from vendors, and patrons, and was constantly being bumped into by the young street urchins, I knew there were attempting to pickpocket me, I had once been in their place. This was why I had brought so little coin, and why it was kept in my bodice, not my apron.
The smell of fish filled the thick hot air as I grew closer to the wharf, as tucked in as this part of the city was there was no fresh sea breeze from the bay, only the stagnant pungent smell of the fish markets. I had forgotten how much I hated that smell, I blocked out the old memories of this place as I turned along the docks.
Small fishing vessels bobbed up and down in the water, as larger ships swept gracefully over the water headed to their own moorings. I nodded politely to sailors and fishmongers as I strolled down the walkways. I followed some of the larger ships towards the large warehouse further down the road.
As I approached the entrance to the office of the warehouse, I eyed the swinging wooden sign, a large three sailed ship, the words Perish Merchants, scrawled beneath. Two broad shouldered sailors stood on either side of the double doors that led into the office of the warehouse.
“I think you’re lost las,” One said, holding an arm over the doorway blocking my entry.
“I think not, this is my uncle’s business, and I am here to see him,” I said flatly.
“Is Mr. Perish expecting you?” The other asked in a gruff voice.
“I would think so, he has been requesting I visit him for many months, I have only just had the opportunity to make it this way.” I stated.
“Fine, follow me,” The first man said.
“I know my way around, I have been here more than you will ever be,” I said, pushing passed him and into the lobby.
Despite my assurance he followed me in, I glanced back at him. He was taller than me by a head, maybe only nineteen or twenty, his long brown hair falling loose around his head like a mane. His dark green eyes watched me suspiciously, his hands resting on twin daggers in his belt. The lobby was a large room lined with worn but sturdy couches and benches, each seat was filled with a sailor, lounging and speaking loudly with each other. They all fell silent and watched as I stepped across the room and pushed through the swinging door at the other end, with the guard following close behind.
“Let me see if he is free to see you,” The guard said from behind me.
“No he will see me now,” I stated, as I placed my hand on the handle to my uncle’s office.
“Las, this is highly irregular,”
“I don’t care,” I said as I pushed the door open.
This was once my father’s office, a large room, with a wide window opposite the door. The walls were lined with dark wooden shelving, still filled with files and scrolls, maps and shipping manifests. The center of the room was dominated by at large desk, before the desk were two small stools, and on the other side was a large high back chair, where I would have once seen my father, happily smiling at me, his thick brown beard would tremble when he laughed at the latest gossip from the docks, his thick arms would wrap me in a tight hug and he would give me his chair and sit on the desk as we talked.
Instead there was a thin man with a dark black goatee, blazing green eyes, and a finely pressed suit. He looked up angrily from the document he was reading. The anger faded, as a grin spread across his thin lipped mouth. I had never understood how this man was my father’s brother.
“Ah niece what a pleasure it is to see you,” He said in his honeyed voice. “Thank you Gras, you can wait outside.” My uncle said to the guard, Gras nodded and closed the door, leaving me in the office alone with my uncle.
“Uncle,” I said as I took one of the stools.
“Niece what brings you here from your lavish inner city house?” He asked a hint of malicious sneaking into his voice.
“I came to request a letter of credit from you so that I might access my account in the bank,” I stated, biting back a retort.
“I know not what you speak of girl, last I was aware you no longer have an account with a bank,” He said, that thin grin spreading back across his face.
“Uncle, why are you doing this,” I asked trying to stay calm.
“Everything that you had is now mine, you own nothing,” I felt a shudder move down my spine.
“If you have everything that was once mine, why not allow me to have the money, Jon and I worked so hard for,” He laughed.
“Why should I let you continue to live off of that money,” He purred.
“Uncle, what do you want,” I sighed, looking down at my hands folded in my lap.
“Oh I need nothing from you anymore,” He said, leaning forward his fingertips tapping against each other. “But my men, you see they lack entertainment when there are at port, I think you could provide some great entertainment for them.” My gaze met his in shock, I burst to my feet.
“Forget I asked for what is rightfully mine, I will trouble you no more,” I said, turning on my heel to leave.
“You are a woman, you rightfully have nothing, and it will stay that way.” My uncle roared, “Gras,” He called, the guard opened the door, “Take my niece here to the palace, have the other girls make her presentable, she will work for us now,” He laughed.
“No,” I snapped, trying to push passed Gras, “I am going home, and I do not belong to you, I owe you nothing, just let me go,” I said glancing back at my uncle as Gras wrapped a large calloused hand around my forearm. My hand went to the dagger in my belt, and Gras quickly grabbed my wrist and twisted, causing the blade to fall uselessly to the ground.
“That doesn’t matter here and you know that,” My uncle said, returning to his seat and opening back up the file he had been reading.
“You’re a monster,” I roared as Gras pulled me bodily down the hallway.
“Gras, Sir please, let me go,” I begged, I could feel the tears running down my cheeks.
“Sorry las, I tried to stop you before, I am following orders, and you will learn that it’s better to follow your uncle’s orders than the alternative.” He sighed as he pulled me back through the lobby and out onto the street.
“Help me,” I begged the men in the lobby and others on the street, but they glanced at Gras and shook their heads.
Gras dragged me down the dust covered road, to the end of the block, where a tall three story building stood; the bottom floor had no windows, and was obviously a pub or saloon. The top two stories were rooms, and woman of all ages sat on the sills waving down to men on the ground. I began to fight harder, this was not what I wanted, and this was never something I had imagined my uncle would do.
Gras pulled me against him and picked my feet up off the ground, he entered the saloon, and made his way to the stair case, where an older woman in a deep purple dress stood with a stern expression watching the men and women mingling in the dark of the saloon. She eyed Gras and me.
“What’s this then?” She demanded.
“Mr. Perish’s niece, he has ordered he prepared and trained.” Gras said.
“Ah, I recall him saying that he planned to send her to me eventually,” The woman grinned, the same thinly veiled malicious grin as my uncle. “Take her to the third floor, no one will hear her up there, put her in cell four,” She said, Gras nodded and carried me up to the top floor. I was hitting and kicking against him the whole time.
“Let me go,” I screamed, I begged for him to let me go, to not do this to me.
“I’m following orders,” He said over and over, almost as though he were trying to convince himself more than me. He threw me into a small room and before I could rush the door, it slammed shut, and the sound of a bolt scraped across the door.
“You’re a monster too,” I spat through the small window in the door.
“It’s part of living here,” He growled back at me. “I’m sure I’ll see you around soon enough.”
I backed away from the door as he disappeared. I took in the small cell I had been thrown into. A pot stood by the door, a bed roll occupied the floor beneath the small window. There was nothing that I could use to harm myself, or anyone else. I collapsed to the ground, I had fallen right into his trap, how had I been so naive, I felt the tears flood from my eyes.
“I will never leave this place alive.” I whispered to myself, as I curled up on the cold wooden floor.
I would not survive.