I enjoyed writing the intrigue and second-meanings in this segment, but it has been a long day and I am glad to finally have it written. The voice in this one is not my usual one, but this is how it usually looks when I am writing quickly or without putting much thought into the craft. Anyway, it is almost midnight, and I’m scheduling this for first thing in the morning. Tired, so I’m not going to go into anything real insightful right now.
Onwards and upwards!
Losing the man was relatively simple—lead him through a few long, empty corridors so he has to hang back, then take a door out onto a very busy street. Then I walked behind a few horses until we had walked through a couple of twists and turns.
I ended up in the new market square, where only the buildings and cobblestones remained the same. Exotic colors decorated new signs, strange faces were behind familiar doors. People were already taking notice to me, I saw the sidelong glances out of the corner of my eye—they knew I was among the last to be integrated. As I did not look like a traveler and lacked any sort of baggage, I started to smile and greet people. If my follower caught up to me, he would have an uninteresting report.
Though my original idea had been to rush headlong into every meeting place I could remember, my mind was now changed. I didn’t want Hunter to know more than he already did, and I had to remind myself that I was a newcomer in my hometown, and people were watching and noticing my moves. My best bet was to hope I could casually visit old haunts.
I stood quietly musing the haggling from the fountain in the center of the square, having spent a couple of hours making the rounds and admiring wares, claiming to be one of the new castle staf members. Their interest in me had waned, and I was free to run my finger over the carved stone lilly petals of the fountain, carefully ignoring the carved, fat children that most of the water would run down during the summer. It had been created by the same artist as the freakish angels, and the children were rendered more eery than the angels.
Before I could move on in my wanderings, a child’s voice came to me from the other side of the fountain. “Momma Honey has a message for ya.”
There was no answer, and I resisted turning around. Momma Honey. The name was new, and I hadn’t a clue where she—presuming it was a ‘she’–was located. There was no sign of the messenger, and the sun was getting low. My stomach rumbled. I wandered the streets, looking for any indication of Momma Honey. There was none.
Food teasers came out, bearing trays laden with tantalizing tidbits. As I had no currency, I was contented to make a meal out of one-bite samples—until a woman laid a hand on mine.
“Mamma has a meal cooked up just for you, hun.”
“With food this good, how could I refuse?”
“She’s down the old Ivy Love Lane, over in the raspberry corner.”
It was off the main strip, but not by much. Since it was quick to get in and out, it had been made a common tristing place, and I was a little too familiar with it. In my time, the raspberry corner had been a house inhabited by a gentle old lady who fed strays the ends of her vegetables.
As I went down Ivy Love Lane, I noticed that my guard had caught up to me, joining me. He said, “Mamma’s got the best ham ‘n’ grits around.”
His presence surprised me. “Really?”
“I didn’t think you liked Mamma’s.”
I watched his reaction in the window glare as we walked. His pudgy face and button nose indicated he was a native, though his hair was darker than usual. He licked his lips and hesitated.
“It’s old fashioned—I mean, it’s comfort food.”
“I’m game. You a regular?”
His step hitched. “I wouldn’t say that.”
We came upon Mamma Honey’s. The shingle siding had a fresh coat of oil and the raspberry patch had a strip cut through it for walking, complete with a layer of pea gravel for walking. I twisted the door knob.
“Locked.” I was relieved. With all this secrecy, and the worry nagging the back of my mind, I had come to the conclusion it would be much simpler to ask Hunter about poison detection I was ure he wouldn’t turn me away.
“Naw, you got to push the door in first.” The guard demonstrated, and light poured through the crack.
“And you’re not a regular.”
His eyes darkened, and a small chill rand down my spine; I wished so much right now that he had not proved me wrong about the door being locked. More than that, I felt I should know him, but I was equally certain we had never met before.
As he lead me in, the warmth and casual chatter of Mamma’s did little to soothe my growing unease. A severe-eyed, short woman with thick curls yelled at my guard.
“There you are! And what friend did you bring?”
He smiled. “Honey, this is just a belle who caught my blue eyes.”
His eyes were more green than blue, and they haunted me, as though I had seen them before and was unable to place them.
Mamma was much too young to be called that, as she was about my age, but with an impatience surrounding her that indicated that she had never had even a husband, much less children. Her smile was large, though it did not soften her appearance.
“I have just the thing! Don’t you say no, dear, it’s wrapped with special care for you to eat on the go. Your date will care for the charge, I’m sure.”
As though taking the prompt from her, my guard stepped up and received a similar bundle as the steaming one handed to me. He paid, then ushered me back through the door and into the evening. My guard ate while we walked back to the castle, but I didn’t touch my food. My stomach had gone sour, and I had both a dread and a fascination with the wrapper.
“What’s it say?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Rather, I didn’t know if I wanted to know. I wished I had stayed in the castle and kept my nose our of this business—once you put your nose there, you can’t go back.
“I’m talking about the wrapper.”
“I know that.”
We were at the backside of the courtyard—I could cut through the lawn and squeeze through the hedges to reach my private garden, and my rooms, without letting the entire castle know when I had returned to my quarters. The guard did not speak again until I stood studying the rabbit paths in the hedge.
“It’s too slim for even a child.”
I ignored him; I was planning to do that from now on. Holding onto my clothes, I pulled them tight across my skin and slithered into the hedge, being mindful to not snag my hair or skin as I went.
I sighed. “What?”
He tried to whisper, but he had no voice control past a loud conversation voice. “I have a hound. He’s hidden.”
I knew what he meant, but I did not want to think about yet another complication. “That’s nice. I’m leaving. You should, too.”
The veneer which had been wearing thin now broke away completely; he stood up straighter, cocked his head, and flashed his teeth in a very familiar way.
“If that is your wish, my queen.”
My cheek caught on a branch as my suspicions were confirmed, and a horrible knowledge set in. I said past a dry mouth, “Go.”
He did, and I made it back to my quarters with a spinning mind. Breathless, I laid the food and wrapper on my table, and sat down. My hands shook as my fingers picked out the knots in my hair, berating myself. I knew what message was concealed beneath the food, and it wasn’t go make my liaison job any easier. It was going to complicate the living daylights out of it, and I yearned for my simple life of thieving food.
My guard was very familiar, because while I hadn’t met him, I had worked for his sister.