It took the rain nearly another twenty minutes to stop falling completely, and it was dusk before
the clouds gave up their occupation of the sky. Now, with the stars shining aggressively and the streetlamps lit, Marie Lissel
made her way through the elaborate front doors of the Sun House, hugging her red coat around her to keep out the evening's
chill. Her auburn hair caught a tint of crimson to match her carefully placed hair pins as she walked through the dim, blood-red
entryway of the temple, brushing a loose curl out of her eyes.
Back the way she had come, a group of exhausted farm and textile workers gathered on the street,
shaking hands and slapping each other's cotton and flannel-clad backs in greeting. Adam Love stood among them, eager to be
on his way over to Tedrus Tavern. He had spent all of the afternoon on his aching knees seeding the ground as the rain slowed
and eventually stopped. Mistress Irvine had come outside for a while, standing over him, darkening the plot where he was working
with her shadow. She had pointed out everything that didn't suit her- from the paint chipping off the barn to the weeds on
the south side that no longer offered flowering buds. She had even pointed out flaws in his seeding, which he accepted with
a gracious nod and an offer to fix. Much of the time, she just stood and watched him carefully, sighing every now and then
with her apparent boredom. He hoped Lile would be back one day very soon.
"Are we going to Tedrus?" he asked impatiently, interrupting a conversation about a good-looking
girl the others had spotted across the street.
Donny, a large but boyish man whose pants were always a bit too short, looked at him carefully,
then at the girl, and then back, noticing that the girl and the tavern were in two different directions. His shoulders slumped
in mock disappointment as he began to lead the group towards Tedrus with a humored smile. Two of Adam's least favorite stayed
behind, intent on approaching the lady. Adam smiled to himself at the thought of how wrong it would likely go.
On their way to the tavern, they passed Dante Mier and Jim Rewer, both employees of Cian Norse
in the unconventional sense. Dante was tall and broad, with light blonde hair that fell in careful, pointed strands around
his eyes. His square jaw made him hard to look at without fear. He stared the men down as they passed, his intensely green
eyes burning for no reason at all. Jim merely followed him, scuffling his feet and looking to Dante for direction. He was
less severe-looking with long, stringy brown hair and a bird's bone structure. Still, he was rumored to be impulsive, rat-like
and quick- always ready to stir up a fight. Both men were perfect for their jobs.
The tavern was not nearly as full as usual; many were still in their homes eating large meals
in celebration for the end of the rain, and even more were sleeping already. In Palmer Ellis, it was considered pious to slumber
early and rise before the sun to witness Eclisolus and his gift of light to the earth. Adam generally slumbered late and still
managed to rise for that spectacle, though he was usually well into his work by the time the other townspeople were letting
their mouths drop open in wonder at the same thing they saw each morning.
He and his friends chose a table near the back wall that was covered with the dark stain from
many years of smoke and spilled drinks. The brew that Valder the tender served at the Tedrus was a rich brown color and resembled
the herbal drinks the doctor in the square used to cure ailments of the throat. Many people were uneasy about Tedrus brew
because of that very fact. The stuff the doctor offered tasted like the back end of a sweating hand, and burned like a fire
going down. The Tedrus brew, on the other hand, was Adam's favorite. It calmed his aches from the day of work and soothed
his irritated nerves as well. It also had a faint sweet taste that he was quite fond of- almost like almond candy. Over a
year ago, his friend Michael had made a joke that anything tasting of almond was probably poisonous and deadly, and he should
be wary of Valder's desire to kill them all in their shoes. Still, Michael was sitting across from him now, calling for a
mug even before fully settling into his seat.
Adam leaned back in his seat, fixing his feet firmly against the criss-crossing planks on the
underside of the table supports. He wove his hands together and stretched them behind his head for comfort. The room had a
relaxing, smoky haze that was like an early morning misty fog. His friends were back to talking about that girl. He knew her.
Her name was Georgia, and she could hardly form a sentence without giggling and batting her eyes. It was dizzying, really,
and not in a good way.
The two of Adam's least favorite who had split off from the group were now on either side of Georgia,
inviting her to join them at the tavern. She was giggling and batting her eyelashes, trying to convince them it wasnt proper,
when Dante and Jim crossed the street. They paid little mind, but Dante was sure to give them all a stare that stopped Georgia's
childish chortle. They continued down the darker side of the street toward the storage house where all of the Norse merchandise
was kept. For the farmhands, the tavern was the fun place to be when the work was done. For the priviledged employees of Master
Norse, it was this warehouse, which was always kept full of riches for those loyal to the most powerful business man in Palmer
Now, as Dante and Jim wound through the dark entryway of the building, they began conversing about
their plans for the night. By the time they reached the back loading dock, Dante had decided he wanted to have a brunette,
and Jim had decided that he didn't care, as long as he couldnt feel all of her bones like the last one. Neither was interested
in any of the drinks or incense that were always available. Several of the other men were well into those riches, sitting
on the edges of the enclosed dock, tipping back their bottles and waiting for the man of the hour.
Jim broke off, seating himself next to another one of the less severe-looking men to share the
story he had just told Dante. Dante approached the outer door and looked out into the night, hoping Cian would arrive soon
with the goods.
A few blocks away, deeper into the dark, Cian stood with two of his men who had been hand-selected.
Huddled near them were two young girls who were there on their own accord, desperately needing money. Another stood several
feet away, smoking and looking at the sky, waiting. Cian eyed her long legs and curves, smiling without realizing it. One
of the other men noticed and gestured to the other, knowing the head man had likely made his pick for the night.
Through the soft haze of smoke the leggy prostitute was creating, a short, stocky block of a girl
emerged, picking a piece of baling twine from her hay-colored hair. She was dressed for her profession in a black camisole
and jaggedly cut hip-dress, and her face was painted only slightly. One of the other girls had told her last week that she
was wearing too much makeup, and it only drew attention to her wide-set eyes and lips. None of them men looked at her. She
came every week, and nearly every week she was someone's last resort. It was shameful, really. The girl might be attractive
if only she was a bit taller and not so squarish.
Breaking the silence, Cian turned to the others and whispered, "Jim isn't picky." They broke off
into a sad attempt at muffled laughter. The straw-haired girl looked up and smiled awkwardly, knowing full well that the joke
was probably about her. She had grown beyond caring what these men thought of her. She just needed money, and no one in town
would hire her for much else anymore. She knew there were some men that just weren't picky about prostitutes, and it was men
like those that she needed most to be able to pay for her room in the basement of the Inn.
She looked around, wondering if more girls were on their way. Four was not nearly enough for the
dozen men waiting back at the storehouse, and she was confident that Cian wouldn't stand for that kind of sharing anyway.
It would come down to three of them being divided after he had his pick- his choice was always exclusive. She assumed it would
be the smoking woman. The other two were shivering in fear- likely first-timers needing a spare dollar. She remembered without
fondness herself in that position, shivering a bit herself. At least they had each other. She had had no one.
As she zoned off into her memories, two more girls approached, smiling confidently at the three
men standing at collection. They had been there the week before, as well. Coincidentally, they had ended up paired with the
two men standing near Cian, and the girls had talked with each other during the whole process. It was strange, but a little
bit humorous, too. How callous to the act a girl must be to have idle chit chat in the presence of such disgusting men. Part
of her wanted to be that way, but another part of her screamed out that it would be a terrible feeling that would leave her
empty and hating herself.
As they all continued to wait, she realized it had been a long time since she had really, truly
hated herself. Most of the time, she pushed it from her mind, and her denial served as a perfect barrier between her and her
past. Unfortunately, there was always the scars. When she looked at them, she remembered...and it was hard not to look at
them. They were on the backs of her hands, where every person in town could see her crime when they shook them, took money
from them, or watched her open a door. She had even taken to wearing gloves with the fingers cut off, just to cover the round
taint of evil. Lots of the prostitutes wore gloves like this, so it was no big deal here.
A cold breeze blew through the alley, shoving the steady plume of smoke from the other lady's
cigarette abruptly out of sight. Gwen shivered a little, wishing she had brought those very gloves. It was sure to be a cold
night, especially when her little clothing began coming off. She hoped it would be soon. With all of the horrible elements
of her current existence, she had taught herself over time that waiting was the worst thing of all.