The shadows were long by the time they left the meeting. At the end of the block, a lamplighter was finishing up his job on the street. It was going to be another warm late spring night.
Tor Terrace was not far from Fortis and Nofri. The blacksmith’s shop was another mile up the road, nestled between a livery and a carpenter. Lights from the apartment above the shop showed the smith was probably upstairs eating or resting. A horse nickered softly from its stall in the livery as Piers and Magali strolled by. There was a tavern at the end of the block and another two blocks the other direction, and neither seemed better or worse than the other.
“Jinty’s or the Nuttery?” Magali asked Chavez, nodding towards one tavern and then to the other. “The first is quieter, the second one has a better selection of ales.”
The rogue gave the woman a smirk. “Sounds like an easy choice to me. Better ales and more drinking could mean more gossipy clientele. The Nuttery it is.” He waited for Magali to head that way, and then match his stride to hers.
The Nuttery had a large, open common room with tables scattered haphazardly around a central hearth. A small bar was positioned in the far corner, and a large woman behind kept mugs filled. Serving girls and boys moved through the crowd with food and drink. In another corner, a pair of gentlemen were throwing darts and a group around them was betting on the game.
The male swashbuckler made sure the magus was with him, and turned to make his way to the bar, nimbly avoiding those in his path. He spoke to the barkeep when he arrived. “Good evening, madam. I’d like a dark ale, and I’ll be paying for this lady’s first ale as well. Also, I’d be happy to buy you one and add a couple nobles to the mix if you could direct me to a regular who knows a thing or two about the quality of some of the local blacksmiths, and would be willing to share his or her opinions and knowledge for a pint or two…” He showed a couple of gold coins in his hand, but waited the woman’s reaction before offering them directly to her.
Magali put a coin on the bar to pay for her own drink, giving the other woman — what was her name, Sabela? or was it Ferna? — a look that tried to communicate the idea that Chavaz was a fair sort, not out to cause trouble. Magali limited herself to just that look, worried that anything more might actually harm his efforts to establish a feeling of good will. Magali was much better at glowers and intimidation than charm.
The woman behind the bar shook her head quickly. “No time for a beer now,” she gestured to the thirsty crowd. “Maybe later,” she added with a quick smile, showing many teeth. “But over there by the darts is Gino. Sure he’s got an idea ’bout smiths.” She placed two mugs of dark ale from a cask labeled Chagas on the bar. Any coins placed likewise disappeared with wave of her hand.
The rogue left the coins behind, and turned to Magali as he grabbed his ale. “Are you any good at darts, lady? I’m not sure if playing will be required or not…” Piers wasn’t in any rush, and was willing to take his time getting to the conversation.
“I can manage not to hit myself with it,” Magali allowed. “And I’m almot certain I can avoid not hitting anyone else.” She managed to conjure up a reasonably friendly-looking smile as they sidled up to the group around the dartboard, and added a little bit louder, to be sure she was overheard, that she would appreciate some pointers on how to improve her game. At the least, it gave Chavaz a way to initiate a conversation, that he could direct as he wanted.
They did not have to play long before finding out that Gino was the youngest of the group and the one who almost always made the wrong bet. A few seemingly idle questions, and Piers learned that Gino was not only a blacksmith’s apprentice, he was also apprenticed to the blacksmith they were interested in.
“Sure’n Master Savelli’s your man,” Gino said proudly when asked for who does good work at a good price.
Piers smirk grew, as he pushed the pitcher of ale over in Gino’s direction. “I’m glad you can recommend him, Gino. I’d be concerned if you said your master did not do good work. Perhaps we will stop and meet the man tomorrow, and look at some his samples of his work. However, it might be nice to hear an outside, unbiased opinion as well. Has Master Savelli done any noteworthy work of late? Perhaps had a commission of note that we might be able to check with the noble? Or does he have an ongoing trade deal with any of the major houses?” He took a sip as he waited for the man to respond.
Gino took a noisy gulp of ale before answering, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Yah, we just finished up a big order fer the temple of Togus – bandings and hinges for the new big doors and some fancy iron work for railings for the steps.” He took another gulp from his mug. “We’ll be the talk of the city soon, mark my words,” he added loftily.
Hopefully not for passing fake coins, Magali thought, but did not say aloud. She started running through the names of people she knew at the various temples, trying to remember if she knew anyone with Togus.
It didn’t take much acting for Piers to seem impressed. If true, that was some excellent credentials to get a commission by the church of artificer. “That is definitely a weighty commission, Gino. I doubt the temple of Togus chooses a smith on a whim. Is the hardware already installed in the temple? We may need to go take a look.” The rogue wasn’t a deeply religious man, but the god of smiths was one he could respect. He glanced to Magali, seeing if she had any further questions.
Gino shook his head. “Nah, the churchmen have someone else putting ‘em in. I heard the carpenter was takin’ longer than he said he would.” He shrugged. “I’m sure they’re hopin’ to have the stuff in by their festival in a couple weeks.”
The rogue chuckled to himself. He saw an opening for a new line of questioning, and didn’t see a reason not to follow it. “Too bad, but very interesting. I’ll have to remember to check it out later. I’ve never worked for a temple myself. Out of curiosity, do they pay in installments for large work? Or half up front and have upon delivery? Does a priest deliver the payment, or do you need to go to the temple to pick up the payment?” Piers made sure to fill up the apprentice’s glass, as he took another sip of his own ale.
“Half up front, half when they get their stuff. That’s the way it mostly works on commission, ’cording to Master Savelli,” Gino slid his mug back after it was full, his gaze moving to the corner of the room. “He’s not going out this time,” the smith’s boy said, but a cheer from the group playing darts made him frown. He shrugged, “Least I didn’t bet on that one.”
Magali worried for a moment that Chavaz’s questions made it sound like he was planning a robbery, but the blacksmith’s apprentice seemed unconcerned. “A wise decision,” she murmured in response to his last comment, and wondered — not for the first time — why anyone would bet on anything. Games of chance had never held much appeal for her.
The swashbuckler rose and extended his hand to the smith’s apprentice. “Thank you for the info. Feel free to finish the pitcher or share it whoever you like. I believe we shall be stopping in to see your master either tomorrow or the next day, and see if he has time and interest in another commission.” He looked to the female magus, seeing if she had any last minute questions or comments before they took their leave.
The smith’s apprentice took the pitcher and his mug back to the group around the dart board with a brief thank you to the Signore. Even as a new game was starting, one of their number was leaving. “Paolo, where’re you going?”
“I don’t want to run into whatever did those killings in the Snarl last night.”
“Ahh, that’s all the way over in the Snarl,” another said dismissively.
“Easy for you to say,” the one called Paolo answered. “You live down the street. ’Night all.” And he ducked out the door.
A serving girl wandered up to the table to see if either Piers or Magali were ready for a refill. The Nuttery looked to do a brisk business, with customers in and out continuously. There didn’t seem to be much food to be had, and what there was was very simple, but the beer was good and plentiful.
Piers waived off the serving girl, as he thought they were about done here. He did wonder if he should ask some more questions elsewhere about the killings in the Snarl. The rogue doubted that it was related to their current investigation, although it could effect their safety as they pursued various leads.
Piers stood as he turned to Magali. “I think I am heading home for the night. Would you like an escort to yours, Magali? I have no expectations about being asked to come in…” The swashbuckler wasn’t sure how the woman would take his offer, but it would give them some time to discuss what time they would meet tomorrow, and any plans.
“I thought I was supposed to be watching your back.” Magali shrugged, indifferent to what Chavaz decided to do, and waved for him to precede her out the door. She had heard about the killings in the Snarl — who hadn’t? — but she felt much more competent to deal with that sort of thing than the chit-chat that Chavaz had handled in the bar. Blood-thirsty attackers? Bah! Small-talk? The very thought made her shudder.
Thus it was that she was less than a dazzling conversationalist on the walk towards her apartments above a baker. “I will be up early, so whenever you want to meet in the morning will be fine,” Magali said when they reached the gate. She tilted her head towards the sign. “The sweet rolls are a steal here, if you want to try them before we get started tomorrow.” But there as no invitation to come in.
That was where Chavaz found her the next morning, in line next to a curvy younger woman with shoulder-length chestnut curls, at the now open window of the baker’s, where customers were passing coppers over for steaming, sugar-covered confections.
Piers was not surprised when he did not get an invitation inside. So when he got back to his home turf, he asked a few questions regarding the killings. He did not find out as much as he hoped, so went to bed fairly early.
The swashbuckler arrived at the bakery the next morning. While he noted the curvacious woman, it was not in his nature to pursue a stranger when he was working with an attractive woman. His eyes did quietly take in the view, but Piers concentrated on the business of the investigation. “Good morning, Magali. You look as lovely as ever this fine morning. It seems that bakery here does good business to have a line waiting. I will have to see if the wait is worthwhile. While we wait, do you have any thoughts on how we should proceed afterwards? Is it worth a trip to a certain temple? Or should we do a little shopping directly?”
Before yielding the position at the counter, Magali turned back and held out another copper, then gave the resulting sweet-roll to Chavaz as both women stepped away. “I was thinking we would go to the tailor. I’m sure you need a new shirt or two, and perhaps I could find something for Donata.”
“That sounds much better than a temple,” the other mumbled agreement around her breakfast. “Make it something pretty, and I might forgive you for bringing her home late last night,” she added with a smile to Chavaz. She almost offered her hand before realizing her fingers were sticky, and then shrugged.
Piers took the the offered hand without hesitating. He kissed the back of it gently. “Magali didn’t inform me that she had someone waiting for her to get in. It would be below my ideals to worry such an equally lovely lady. I will state that I wouldn’t have minded if she had kept me up later, but such was not to be…” Now, he did give the woman a sly wink, and turned to his fellow investigator. “I have no objections to your suggestion about visiting the tailor, although Tomas might be disappointed we checked it out without him. Still, I am not one who likes disappointing a lady, so let’s be on our way, Magali.”
Piers turned back to the other woman (Donata?), and gave her a small bow. “It was a pleasure meeting you, my lady. I hope I shall be seeing more of you in the future.” He hoped the minor innuendo was taken as flirting, and showed a bit of his humor and wit. The swashbuckler then waited to see if Magali took the lead on the route to the tailor’s place.
“Something in blue,” Donata smiled at Magali before giving her a quick kiss. She turned to Piers, looked him up and down appraisingly, then smiled mysteriously and walked away without saying another word.
They found the tailor’s shop nestled between a shadowed alley and a curio shop. It was a modest dwelling, mostly wood with stone base. The wares displayed in the shop window appeared serviceable but not ostentatious.
Magali watched Donata walk away, and then gave Chavaz a sideways look. “Hands off, she’s mine.”
At the tailor’s, she stopped outside the window to assess the display goods. They didn’t look all that expensive, and she might actually be able to find something for Donata that she could afford. Still, Chavaz would do better at playing a customer, and so she opened the door and held it for him, as if she were simply his bodyguard, accompanying him on a shopping trip.
Piers was convinced that he was being set up, but walked into the trap with his head high. He let his eyes linger on the departing figure, as he he leaned in and whispered something to the magus, lifting his hands up and open as he did so. He smiled, half expecting a slap for his comment, and backed away.
When they arrived at the the shop, and Magali held the door, the swashbuckler paused, considering the options. He leaned in again, and spoke quietly. “Your shopping trip, your lead, and your coin.” He gave a stiff nod, and rested his hand on his sword hilt, as he entered the shop, glancing carefully around as if he was a bodyguard, making sure the place was safe for his ward. “It appears safe, Lady Salvado. Whenever it pleases her ladyship…” He stood off to the side of the door, awaiting the woman with him to make her entrance.
The main room of the shop was well-lit from both the sun outside and a few lanterns inside. A triple mirror stood on one side of the room with a small dais in front of it. The other side had a few racks of cloth in various colors and prints. A few simple garments hung on the walls, but it appeared most of Mazzon’s work was made to order.
When Piers entered the shop, he noticed a man turning and walking out the back of the shop while another watched, shaking his head slowly in disappointment. The second man, slight and balding, turned and came to the front of the shop. “Greetings,” he offered pleasantly. “How may I help you?”
Magali frowned, stymied by Chavaz’s turning of the tables. Wasn’t he supposed to be the face? But there he stood, looking all dour and guard-like, and unless she was going to get into an argument with him about who was the customer and who was the hired hand, right in front of the tailor, she would have to follow the path he had laid out.
Well, she was a lousy liar, so she might as well stick with something close to the truth. “I am looking for something in blue for meu amor.”
“Ah, did you have a particular shade of blue in mind? Or a print of some sort?” the tailor asked. “I’m not sure what I might have already completed…” he murmured as he scanned the shop for something blue.
A particular shade? Magali gave Chavaz a look behind the tailor’s back that said, This is why you should be doing this. He did not look properly recalcitrant. “Ummm… sapphire,” she finally ventured. She knew sapphires were blue at least.
The tailor paused in his scan and his murmuring as if he stumbled when he heard the answer and could not understand it, then went on. “Well, I have a tunic in something resembling that color. I may have a coat in that color in back,” he started towards the back of his shop.
Left to fumble her way through the conversation with the tailor, Magali stuck with “mostly the truth,” and allowed herself to take the time to actually consider various items that might be an appropriate gift for Donata — a head-scarf, a pair of gloves, something small that would not cost too much and would not require custom-fitting. The tailor was a skilled salesman, able to keep the conversation going without requiring much from Magali herself; their chit-chat drifted from his wares to the local gossip, to the news of Rishtan’s piratical dealings, their mutual plans for the upcoming festival, and the murders in the Snarl.
“Terible savagery,” Magali agreed, with a shake of her head, and murmured something about how she was relieved that neither she nor anyone she cared about had to live in such a neighborhood. Hopefully, that would give the man an opening to talk about his new house, and how he had funded its purchase.
“It makes me glad I was able to move further north in Westhome,” the tailor agreed, leaving the impression that he was not far from the Snarl not so long ago. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to swing it with a ne’er-do-well for a brother,” he gestured vaguely towards the back of the shop, inadvertently letting Piers know who the man was the tailor was talking to when they first came in. Mazzon looked suddenly abashed that he had shared that bit about his family.
The swashbuckler saw an opening in the conversation and decided to take it. “I have a similar family situation , sir. No need to apologize. Business must be very good if you are able to afford a home there, sir. Or did you come by such a windfall through inheritance or some other way? I hope you don’t mind my asking… I’ve worked for some folks in that region a few years ago.”
“I had to borrow the money for the new house. I probably could have saved up, but you know how family can be,” he lowered his voice conspiratorially, “plenty of big ideas and no way to live day to day. But he’s family, so I had to give him money from time to time. And sometimes they surprise you,” he finished with a smile.
“It sounds like it worked out well then,” Magali commented, running her hand over the scarf once more. Donata would like this. “Did he pay you back?”
“That was the surprise,” the tailor confirmed. “I had given up thinking he would ever be able to.” He shook his head in amazement. “So, this one, then?” he asked Magali, sensing that she had made a decision.
“Yes,” Magali decided, and began to count out the coin. “Congratulations on your brother’s success,” she added.
“Can you congratulate someone on someone else’s success at gambling?” the tailor asked.
“If it paid off your loan, I suppose. Though I am surprised at such success at gambling — my experience has been quite the opposite.” That was true enough; Magali had learned the hard way, at a young age, that the risks of gambling were far higher than she was willing to bear. “Do you know where he managed to amass such winnings? Meu amour likes to play games,” and that was oh-so-true as well, “perhaps she could have a run of good fortune, too.”
Piers considered the possibility that the winnings were the counterfeit coins, and liked where Magali was going, and tried to assist.
“Good fortune smiles best on those willing to share in their luck. If he’s be willing to share where and from whom, I’ll gladly give him a few coins to start his his next winning streak.”
Mazzon waved off the offer of coins. “If you get him started again, he may not stop But he says the place is called ‘The Ruddy Rogue’ or something.” He made a few marks in a ledger and took Magali’s coins for the scarf.
Magali thanked the tailor, tucked the scarf under her arm, and headed for the door. Forgetting she was supposed to be playing the lady, she stepped out without waiting for him to open the door. “Tomas is likely waiting for us. Dew Drop Inn to compare notes?”
Piers gave the tailor a nod of the head, and followed the magus out.
The swashbuckler smiled. “That worked out better than I thought. We definitely have a lead worth following up. The Dew Drop Inn it is. Hopefully, Tomas hasn’t gotten too far ahead of us on the drinks.”