In a quiet, out-of-the-way establishment called The Nook, Athylee and Katrynn discussed their findings over two pots of tea (Athylee firmly refused to let Katrynn drink coffee), biscuits, carrot sticks, and turkey sandwiches. Around them, other clientele huddled about round wooden tables set into deep recesses dimly lit by small iron gas lamps. Keeping her voice to a low murmur, Athylee asked her apprentice how she had got on.
“I got lost twice,” Katrynn confessed as she dug out her tiny square notepad and put them down on her table. “The Archives were big, but I found everything you asked for in the end.”
“Yes. I noticed,” Athylee said. “You did great work today. What did you find in the records? Oh. These are your notes...”
Athylee trailed off as she realized the white paper that had been lined in pen was in fact not a mess of doodling but itty-bitty lettering. Katrynn’s notes, she realized, were the tiniest set of writing she had ever seen.
“You didn’t need to worry about saving on paper, dear.”
“I wasn’t worried about paper,” Katrynn said, knowing why Athylee was squinting at the paper. Most people squinted at her handwriting.
“Well, why don’t you summarize what you found, and I’ll double-check it against what I heard from the various officers around the station?”
“Alright,” Katrynn nodded. “First, Lord Sadon. He isn’t a criminal. I mean, there is no record of him being a criminal. There were two notices when he was a young boy – I mean, when he was eighteen, he was visiting in the Capital and he got into a brawl at the Knight’s Rider Inn. Otherwise, Lord Sadon seems to be innocent in the eyes of the law.”
Katrynn’s voice, thick with disbelief, told Athylee just what the young girl thought of ‘the eyes of the law’. The older assassin chuckled.
“And his wife, the Lady Matilde?”
“Same thing. Even less, actually. Of course. I mean, most girls don’t go around and fight in pubs,” Katrynn sniffed and mentally added: And if they did, they would be sure not to get caught.
“Well, that is just what we expected,” Athylee nodded. “Most aristocrats, if they are dabbling in illegal affairs, have better opportunities to pay off the right people and hide their guilt. According to Detective Foley, Lord Sadon has been connected with various rumors regarding smuggling, particularly drug smuggling.”
“Drug smuggling?” asked Katrynn. “I looked up the information on drug smuggling like you asked.”
“What did you find out?”
“A lot,” Katrynn said grimly. “Father mentioned that drugs are a problem, but I didn’t think it was so big.”
The young girl imagined herself darting from house to house, hunting down the masked men and the soft-footed thieves and the greedy smugglers who frequented the back alleys of the Capital in the dead of the night. With her trusty daggers, Katrynn would rid the world of drugs and–
“So what else did you find?” Athylee’s voice broke into Katrynn’s daydreams.
“Almost all drugs come in on ships from the east,” Katrynn said, glancing through her notes hurriedly. “From the east and the south,” she corrected herself.
“I heard about that from an officer...” Athylee flipped a page of her notes, “Officer Cranton. He said a variety of ships will carry the illegal substances, knowingly or unknowingly.”
“Lumber ships, cattle ships, and textile ships,” Katrynn continued. “There is a list of the various merchants and guilds which have had shares in the merchant ships which were found to be carrying drugs.”
“Yes, that is what he said as well.”
“For example, there was this one textile ship, called Allie Lee, carrying silks from the Far East. It was searched, and a few packs of Dust were found.”
“More concrete evidence,” Athylee said grimly. “Lord Sadon has a connection to some textile ships and some of those ships have carried drugs. The potential lead is there to follow. Why have the police not looked into this? It is almost criminal.”
“We already knew Lord Sadon was close partners with the textile guild as well,” Katrynn’s finger paused over a set of notes. “Emalynn’s report says there is a family connection. Also, down here…” Katrynn flipped two pages of closely written script and scanned through her miniscule notes. “I copied an officer’s statement. He basically said that many people share ships for… uh… He said ‘cost effective’. What does ’cost effective” mean?”
“It’s cheaper to share a ship, which makes sense.” Athylee nodded. “However, we knew that already. Anything else?”
“There was one small file – a report from a dockyard worker who is an informant for the police – which said… Here, I’ll read what I copied. ‘Information and rumors about Lord Sadon’s involvement with drugs have been cropping up among certain groups of fishermen. Apparently, the Fishing Trade Guild has tight connections up and down the coast, and there have been rumors spreading concerning the involvement of Karrowyn fishermen in certain smuggling activities.’”
“Hm. So, there is a hint of a connection, but it was never followed up?”
Katrynn nodded. “It was filed two years back, but it was put into a file, and I guess no one thought it was important. Or,” Katrynn’s eyes gleamed with the prospect of a conspiracy, “someone did not want it to be thought important!”
“We will put that in our report.”
“I can put it on the board?” asked Katrynn with increasing zeal.
“Yes,” Athylee smiled. “You can put it on the board – but in bigger handwriting, please.”
Katrynn nodded, resigned to the request now made on a daily basis by her teachers.
“Officer Derek Little also told me that a few more rumors about drug smuggling, and smuggling in general, out Karrowyn way have been spawned of late. Apparently, the rumors are increasing in number. Someone seems to be upset.”
“That man in Tawyrs?” asked Katrynn, recalling Master Colin’s report.
“Ulston?” Athylee mused. “Perhaps. Some people think that if they shout long and loud enough, someone will hear them.”
“It seems to be working.”
“Maybe,” Athylee mused. “But we need to be careful. The assignment isn’t supposed to be focused on drugs. You need to remember it is first and foremost about Lord Sadon – and drugs cannot become a red herring for us. We need to focus on all aspects of the assignment – and we must take care as we investigate since the drug cartels of Gojin and the Red Sand will not take kindly to us poking about their business.”
“We must be on our guard,” Katrynn nodded. “All the time.”
“Yes, especially since there seems to be some elements of corruption in the police force.”
“Corruption?” asked Katrynn.
“Corruption means that some officers will ignore illegal activities because they have been paid to turn a blind eye.”
“Evil police officers!” Katrynn gasped with shining eyes. Her conspiracy theory appeared to be coming true.
“Well, ‘evil’ is a bit strong,” Athylee said mildly, “but it is a serious issue. This is why assassin’s focus on staying loyal to their country and to the King and to justice.”
“If some police are corruption-”
“If they are corrupted,” Katrynn said carefully, “can we believe the records? Can we believe what the officers say?”
“We have to double-check all the facts,” Athylee said. “Which is why we are going to go down to the docks and meet with an informant who seems more knowledgeable and reliable.”
“Was he on the list?”
“No,” Athylee looked up. “He is one of ours. Two days ago I sent him a message, and today we will find out what he has discovered for us.”
With that the older assassin rose to her feet, left to pay the bill, returned to pack her bag, and made sure that Katrynn was bundled up well for the cold. Despite Katrynn’s reassurances, Athylee seemed rather worried about her apprentice catching cold. After double-checking that all of their belongings were safely stowed, the two stepped out of the warm restaurant, flagged a cabbie, and headed for the textile district.
The ride did not last as long as Katrynn had expected. Pulling to a stop in front of a tall, narrow, wooden house, which slanted a little to the left, the cabbie waited for the two to disembark and pay the fair before continuing onward. As she looked up at the bland looking exterior of the house with the small stoop before the plain black and grey door, Katrynn blinked and turned to Athylee who mounted the short steps to knock on the door and show her seal.
Manned by two young assassins who looked a little bored, this house seemed to be a smithy for a variety of weaponry. As she passed the back door to another room, Katrynn caught a glimpse of a spacious backyard complete with a coach house, a back gate, and a small winding alleyway. In the next room, shelf upon shelf lined the walls filled with small racks and tiny boxes. The young girl did not say anything, but her sharp eyes could not help but linger on the rows of small knives she glimpsed lying partially concealed within a half-open drawer. It is weapon paradise, she sighed. I wish I could live here.
“Can any assassin work here if they want?” Katrynn asked her mistress in a theatrical whisper as they followed their blonde-haired guide into yet another back room.
“Of course, dear. After all, the Guild appreciates any who wishes to enhance its weapon capabilities. The Guild has always been interested in enhancing its own resources for inventing and producing weaponry,” Athylee explained. “However, these houses also have a secondary function. After all, having a variety of safe locations about the city ensures security for assassins.”
“For those times that hiding on a roof doesn’t work,” Katrynn guessed.
“Exactly.” Athylee turned to the black-haired young man who, judging by the stack of short blades by his pedal-whetstone, had been working on weaponry maintenance and had now risen to his feet. “We need to use the route to the east.”
“Right this way,” he said with a nod and a smile.
Katrynn’s brown eyes widened as they were led down a flight of stairs to a dimly lit basement filled with metal scraps and shelving units filled with various tools and weapons. There were crates of light and heavy armor – as well as a safe door which opened to a dark tunnel. Athylee raised a small lantern handed to her by the young man.
“It’s a fair distance to the east,” the young man said briefly. “Good luck.”
With that, the two made their way down a fairly even stone path. Athylee and Katrynn walked for what felt like a half an hour before they arrived at another set of stairs which led upward to another inconspicuous basement. This room held two women, five sewing machines, bolts of fabric, and threads and spools and elastics and hoops and boning. Turning, Katrynn noticed that the door to their tunnel was a wooden case full of sewing textbooks.
Once inside, the Master and apprentice followed a short, grey-haired woman who had risen from her sewing machine and silently ushered them into a room edged with a variety of wardrobes. As the two visitors looked about the room uncertainly the older woman nodded briskly.
“Everything you need is at your disposal. What attire are you seeking?”
“We’ll need lower class shop owner clothing,” Athylee said.
“Ah. Those outfits are over in that corner,” the older woman waved at the far left area across from the changing rooms. “Remember to return the garments by tomorrow evening,” she added before shuffling out of the room.
“Clothing?” Katrynn asked curiously, pulling a long, pink fluffy boa out of a particularly glittery closet which had immediately drawn her attention.
“We’ll need to go in disguise,” Athylee said. “Going to the police station is one thing, asking questions at the harbor is another thing entirely.”
Katrynn, imagining herself putting on a false mustache and hooded cape, sighed as Athylee held up a large kerchief and a drab grey-blue dress.
“Put these on, dear,” Athylee said, “and quickly. We’ll put our real clothing in our merchant’s bags, so we look as though we are seriously into purchasing material. I’ll have to change my frock as well.”
“So we look poorer and more like working people,” Katrynn said, taking the clothing. “So, we are lower class shop owners who own a fabric store?”
“Yes, small town shop owners trying to get some new wares,” Athylee nodded. “Do you remember your third back story?”
“Yes,” Katrynn nodded and made beeline for the latticed screens behind which she began to change.
I am a young apprentice traveling with my aunt, she reminded herself. She is a seamstress with an interest in the latest imported fashions and wants the best textiles. Since I’m just starting, I don’t need to know a lot. Katrynn imagined herself as an apprentice to an as yet unknown genius seamstress with the power to create the most outlandish designs known to the Court. My aunt’s hats are so big you can hardly fit through a door!
By the time she was done, Katrynn was prepared mentally as well as physically. Emerging from the small street which ran by the house, Katrynn realized that they had somehow arrived at the ever bustling hub of the textile markets and piers. Once, when she had been much younger, Katrynn had visited this area with her mother. Then, it had been an overwhelming experience of colors and sights and sounds; now, it seemed very much the same.
Open to the large harbor of the city, the textile market shivered beneath the intermittent gusts of chilly wind blowing from the north east. The heavy odors of fish, brine, and wet wood permeated the air. To her left, the slender pillars of the Textile Guild’s front entrance rose, bravely facing the larger piers and the sea beyond. In front of the Guild, branching out in three great roads, was a roundabout filled with a variety of horse cabs, carts, and bicycles. On occasion, a carriage or motorwagon rumbled past.
Crossing the street at various angles, intersection available or no, workers scurried about, carrying large canvas bags and wood boxes and flapping bits of cloth and sacks. Various merchants yelled the prices from small, packed stalls; errand boys darted through small flocks of housewives come to view the latest fabric; designers and high class customers alighted from carriages and disappeared into classy establishments decorated with ancient statues.
Katrynn, walking past the main entrance of the Textile Guild, noticed one such wealthy visitor – a round-faced, dark-haired lady – stashing letters away in her valise and preparing to ascend into a black and green carriage drawn by two fine bays.
“Get your ribbons here – half price!”
“Hot cross buns for sale! Hot cross buns for sale!”
“Brocade! Brocade! Thirty pence for a meter!!!”
“Oh my,” Athylee paused in front of a gaily festooned stall. “Buttons. How enchanting!”
Hovering at her distracted Mistress’s elbow, Katrynn watched with well-disguised impatience as Athylee painstakingly sorted through the discount button box, searching for buttons with a crown insignia on them.
“I’ve been hoping to get one of my jackets refurbished,” Athylee went on, stopping to hold up a button that had a flowery looking design on it. “That fleur-de-lis isn’t so bad – but rather continental, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Katrynn nodded, as though she knew what ‘continental’ meant. “Very.”
Is this part of our undercover act? She wondered. It’s hard to tell. Best go along with it.
“This one has the lion standard on it.”
“Hm. It might be popular in the shop,” Katrynn said.
“Shop?” Athylee blinked, then realization dawned. She laughed. “Yes. Our customers will enjoy it.”
Katrynn fought to keep the reflexive grimace that nearly flashed across her face. She forgot we were pretending to be shopkeepers?
“I’ll take twenty of these,” Athylee said after a moment laying out a paisley button and then the lion standard one, “and fifteen of these.”
After the transaction had been completed and the buttons were stowed carefully away in Athylee’s bottomless bag, the two continued on, ostentatiously checking fabrics and their prices, slowly making their way down a street slanting south-east and running alongside the bay. Calico Cape Street, Katrynn noted. On Calico Cape Street, warehouses and piers jutted out over the water, where great ships peacefully docked. Katrynn glimpsed large ramps running up and down from the middle bulwarks of the merchant vessels from which large crates and massive sacks were slowly being unloaded. In between the warehouses, small stalls jammed together along with a variety of inns and pubs.
At one such inn, The Sea-Swallow, Athylee and Katrynn entered and took a seat in the booth which was most dimly lit. A tall, thin, bearded man was seated in one of the booth’s corners, flipping through a stack of import and export lists and bills and forms. Athylee, ordering a pot of tea and some biscuits, smiled in the man’s general direction.
“It’s been a while, Jake.”
“Too long,” was the quiet reply. “How’s the shop?”
“Doing well,” was Athylee’s equally polite response. “There’s been an influx of new customers.”
“The more the merrier.”
This is so amazing! Katrynn sighed inwardly. It is just as Mistress Athylee told me! Whenever assassins and their associates meet in public, they have passwords and phrases and things for security. It’s so exciting. Why doesn’t our team have passwords and phrases? Probably, another part of herpointed out, because you guys all know each other anyway. But, she argued with herself, it would come useful if we were all wearing masks and completing a mission at night and we weren’t sure if we were who we said we were.
It was beginning to sound convoluted to Katrynn, so she focused her attention back on the conversation. The tea arrived on a tray and when the chatty maid had left (with the impression that a woman and her apprentice niece were here on textile-related business), Athylee and Jake resumed their conversation.
“I made some inquiries about the business you were asking about,” Jake said, putting his papers down, adjusting his thick wire-frame glasses, and pouring himself some tea. “Concerning the shipments and their connections.”
“Was it the lord I mentioned?” Athylee asked, voice low.
“Lord Sadon has been involved, according to some rumors.” Jake’s cautious glance landed on Katrynn (who had surreptitiously begun to take notes beneath the table) in a sharp evaluating kind of way. “And is this your apprentice? Goodness, they are starting them young these days.”
“Special case,” Athylee smiled vaguely. “We have some experienced students this year.”
“Well, there are geniuses in every guild, I suppose, even yours. In any case,” Jake shrugged and returned to the topic at hand. “I have heard that Lord Sadon has connections with certain parties who are engaged in smuggling, particularly aiding the drug cartels of Gojin. Yes. Quite involved in a large way. Those are the rumors, mind you. Nothing verifiable. And of course, the right people have been paid off.”
“Corruption,” Athylee nodded. “I heard.”
“We just came from the police,” Katrynn said in a theatrical whisper.
“Indeed,” Jake said, amused. “However, you can’t stop rumors. There was a fisherman down Karrowyn way who has a brother-in-law down in these parts... and it seems he’s raised a bit of a fuss. His grandfather – or father – or some such – got involved in the drug trade and died as a result. That is the story.”
“Hm,” Athylee just nodded.
Katrynn noticed that her Mistress did not volunteer the information they had discovered thanks to Master Shermore and Emalynn. I guess that is what being an informant is all about, she thought. You stick to your job, you share information, and you focus on your safety. Knowledge is power. It’s dangerous. Knowing more than you ought... is probably not the best thing for people like Jake.
“There is an island, apparently, where the drugs come in. The Textile Guild is concerned,” Jake stroked his beard and stared thoughtfully down at the papers before him. “The Guild Master of Textiles has attempted to place security measures to ensure that such situations do not reoccur, but his connection to Lord Sadon is a matter of incredible delicacy – family as well as business relations.”
“They share the same ships on occasion,” Athylee said. “We heard.”
“Yes, it is economical, but risky,” Jake sighed. “I am only an undersecretary, but I know that Master Peter Tynne – the leading master within the guild who will, no doubt, replace Master Taryth when he is retired to Karrowyn – has attempted to regulate the ships more stringently.”
“His measures have failed then.”
“Hm, well,” Jake frowned. “There are some who undermine Master Tynne’s efforts, seeing his regulations as a political move for power within the Guild. Anyone with half a brain knows that it is not true, but there are those who thrive on such intrigues when there are no others to be had.”
“Fascinating,” Athylee leaned forward and poured Katrynn and herself another cup of tea. “So, there is no issue between Taryth Sadon and Peter Tynne. Perhaps when Taryth replaces Lord Sadon and Peter Tynne comes into his own, security and regulations will be more accepted.”
“Perhaps,” Jake shrugged. “I am certain there will always be malcontents in any guild. However, the sooner the source of the problem is dealt with, the better.”
Mistress Athylee’s pale grey eyes gazed off in the direction of the inn’s kitchen doors, focusing on nothing in particular. Katrynn’s pen, now caught up with the conversation, paused and waited.
“Very, very interesting,” Athylee finally said, as though finishing a conversation. She no doubt had just had one in her head. Her gaze sharpened on Jake with uncomfortable strength. “It was the Textile Guild who requested this mission, wasn’t it?”
“Ahhhh...” Jake scratched his head and chuckled. “I can’t say ‘no’, but I can’t say ‘yes’ either. That would be a question best suited for Master Taryth or Master Peter or the Council. At any rate, I would not be surprised if it was us... There is, after all, nothing we can do about the situation. Your Guild however...” Jake trailed off meaningfully.
“Well, you have given us a lot to think on,” Athylee said, giving Katrynn a meaningful ‘we-are-going-soon’ nod. “Lord Sadon will, in some form or another, be dealt with, but our work is not for a singular group’s interest. If the country’s security and health requires the removal of such a person... You will hear our response within a few months, either way.”
“Thank you,” Jake gave Athylee a small smile. “We appreciate it.”
“I am sure.” Athylee nodded.
With that, Athylee rose and Katrynn, stowing away her note pad and pen carefully, followed after, giving Jake a nod of her own.
“Let’s get back to the school,” Athylee smiled. “It’s going to be supper time soon.”
“I’ll have a report ready by tomorrow morning,” Katrynn said as Athylee raised a hand and waved down a horse and cab.
“The day after tomorrow is fine. You can hand it in on Floda Da’s evening.”
“Alright,” Katrynn sighed, getting in after Athylee.
“And make sure your handwriting is a bit larger.”
“Of course,” Katrynn said.
My first report! I’m going to sound as official as I can... Hmm...
Wriggling with glee, she began to write it in her head.
The part of her that sounded like Emalynn.