Dispute & Duplexity IX
“Well yes, you did fulfil the mission.” Commissioner Fanderi told Nannade in his office. “And we were all terrible impressed with a fifteen-year-old girl dragging a head bigger than her ribcage through the tunnels all the way to the surface, but the contract went to your master Black Surgeon, and you have no marks of approval yet, so we can’t give you any of the money. You’d have to wait for your master to send you some of it. We have already sent it his way in Hozorcia, along with our report and recommendation.”
Nannade massaged her temples with her fingers. “I told you, ser, he’s not in Hozorcia! It will be almost a month before it reaches Sturreland, then makes its way back to me. I am taffing penniless here, ser!”
“I’m sorry, my hands are tied.” Was the last thing Fanderi said before asking her to leave the headquarter.
The City guard did not want to pay her out, so she was stuck here. Her boot-stash was the last coin she had had. She wouldn’t even be able to buy rations like this. And where ever she needed to go next, Plirova would be the best place to catch a ship there.
Nannade had already cleared some things up below before dragging the huge head up through the tunnels, into the tombs below the piazza di sepolcro,and then called for a member of the guard from there to carry her trophy to the headquarters. Her captive had been happy to see Nannade succeed. It meant her suffering would have an end. Nannade had given the woman the quick and painless death that she had promised her. Leaving the bath house behind had been sorrowful. Somehow, she had grown attached. She could call it her first place to call her own, in a sneaky, “criminal underworld” kind of way. Patti sat on the Don’s throne now, but his butt wouldn’t even have enough time to warm it properly before the city guard dragged it off there again. Nannade had decided to leave her coin purse with him. She was in no condition to fight and the gangs had already increased security.
Now she stood on the streets of Plirova, in the golden evening sun, with not a single coin to her name, Aaka at her belt again and not knowing where to go. Aaka had already contacted Black Surgeon, but was still waiting for a last confirmation, so Nannade didn’t even know where she’d have to go next. She almost felt like lying down and sleeping on the streets. She wanted a bath. She felt so disgusting. She was hungry. Salted fish and raw potatoes made terrible food and she had not eaten as much as she should have.
She walked over to one of the large columns in front of the headquarters and sat down leaning against it. She watched as the people in the busy streets headed home after a long day of work,then she took out her notebook to write a few things down, when someone came up to her. It was Lieutenant Camillo.
“I knew it. It’s been a while, what have you been doing?”
“Oh, you know, ser, helping the city guard with something.”
“You look lost, do you have a place to stay?”
Nannade saw where this was heading and did not like staying with someone of her own kind, but she had little choice. “No, ser. My payment’s been delayed. I don’t have a single coin left.” She hated telling people that she was in such a situation, but she could not bring herself to decline his offer.
“Then why don’t you come home with me? I’m sure my wife made enough for dinner to feed one mouth more. Seems like you could use a bath too.” He chuckled. “And stop it with the ser.”
They made their way to the harbour district, a place very popular with her kind, she had been told. She just now noticed that she was about as tall as Camillo himself. She never realized how much taller she was than her kind, most likely due to Elissa’s growth serum.
She felt something awkward between them that she wanted to get rid of. “I’m sorry I was so gruff to you the other day.” She finally said.
“Don’t think about it. Plirova is a tough place to be.” he waved her concern. It made her glad.
Camillo’s house was rather large. Then again, he was the lieutenant of the entire harbour division. As she entered the house, she took in all the scents she could. Pinewood, a fire in the fireplace, simmering minced meat with garlic and onions, herbs and spices from distant lands. She loved the smell here.
Camillo’s wife came around the corner. He had already told Nannade her name was Martina. She was an entire head shorter than Nannade.
“Welcome, dear. A friend of yours, dear?” She said while straightening her messy apron.
“She was helping the guard with something and her payment got delayed, so I offered her a place.”
Nannade was somewhat confused. “Why do you speak scholarian in your own house?”
Martina snickered. “You look like a traveller from scalp to soles. And I’ve never seen someone from the western tribe from this city. Now, I will get you a bath ready, I can tell you need it.”
She disappeared around a corner to get a bath ready for her. “I’ll wash you properly, it must have been months since your last proper bath.” Martina said and she was right, the last time she had a proper bath was in Kalonitz, two months ago. She was lucky she wasn’t crawling with flees and lice after spending so much time around rats in sewers and tunnels in both cities.
Their bath was its own room, not just a nook behind a curtain, and connected to the central sewer system of Plirova. It smelled of lavender and citrus. Such exotic smells to Nannade, who knew best the smell of pine trees, chestnut bloom, wet soil, and water mint, local scents of rough nature, not the refined scents of the city folk.
It was nice getting groomed again. Nannade could tell Martina was intrigued by her body, but she kept quiet as she washed and brushed her thoroughly, Nannade enjoyed it enough to even ignore the pain when Martina got to her ribs.
After Martina had washed, dried off and brushed Nannade, she also gave her some simple clothes to wear for now. She had insisted on washing Nannade’s clothes and airing out the leather, as well as her blanket. Nannade did not even think about refusing.
At the dinner table their two sons joined them, Camillo Jr., sixteen years old, and Patricio, nine years old. All four of them had that brighter, almost white, creamy colouration and larger ears of the southern tribe. The dish for tonight was meat balls – which Martina called “polpette” – and noodles.While she was eating, all four of them were pelting Nannade with questions. By now, she had no issues with reciting her usual story. Garetas had taught her how to get her story straight and play a role: She was an apprentice witch of the Lodge of Sturreland, travelling for her test of moral commensuration. So far, no real lies. She had delivered and presented recommendations by the Lodge on improving the wards of the city, as well as introduce new measures to detecting, identifying and handling spirits that still went through. Of course, the family asked her all sorts of questions about spirits and magic, and Nannade gladly indulged them in exchange for the dinner, bath and place to stay for the night. The youngest son did not speak scholarian well, but the older had already finished his Secundum, so his was good enough to hold a conversation. He talked about how he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps, while the younger told of adventures across the sea. Nannade did not have the heart to tell him how tiring and crushing adventures could be. All the while Nannade felt their stares on her. How they sized up her body, looked at the discrepancies and weirdness that was her mutated appearance, always able to tell something was off, but never being able to put a finger on it. The two boys were especially wary of her.
“Say, Nannade,…” Camillo Sr. opened at one point. “Is it trued what you told me? About never meeting any other of our kind.”
Nannade had to put her cutlery down. “Kind of, yes. I saw some on the streets of Plirova when I came here, but I never saw any of my kind except for my parents.”
Martina’s face showed sympathy. “Was it a lonely life?”
Nannade had to think for a moment. “I guess... yes. I never knew what it meant to talk to people. When I saw others talk to each other, like the guests of the inn, I was wondering what there was to talk about. I got used to not understanding things.” Before she knew she was rambling. Was it the recent months of isolation that made her just sputter forth her innermost memories? “My mother never had the strength to endure my endless questions after a day of “work”, so after a while, I stopped asking. I felt as if the world was just one big darkness which I could never grasp. Maybe that’s what makes me a good medium. I accept that spirits are unreal, that no one can comprehend them, only accept them.” The mood had hit a low point. She stopped. “I’m sorry. I did not want to bring this dark place from my past to your dinner table.”
Camillo Sr. and Martina shrugged it off, but Camillo Jr.’s gaze only grew more suspicious. They had their fill of food and stories, and eventually, the family retired to bed. Before he followed them, Camillor Sr. took Nannade aside for a quick chat.
“I know what you told me is a lie. The thing with the wards and such.”
Nannade was not entirely surprised. “How?”
“Many saw you enter the entrance hall along the guards carrying that huge head. I know you did the Lord of the Tunnels in; half the guard was talking about it.”
“So why not expose me as a liar? I could be a danger to your family. I don’t get why you would be so friendly to me then.”
“Because in a port city, you see many strange things enter and leave. You ate in the cantina of the guard, so I already knew my superiors trusted you. You can’t be that bad.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “But most importantly, because in this world, even in this city, no one will look out for you as much as your own kin. You can’t survive alone, you need friends, and we are the few remaining in this part of the world, as far as I know, and if we don’t look after each other and stick together, the humans will just trample all over us without any regard to position, rank or anything else.”
It hit home for Nannade. “I understand. I guess I’m just fine with being exceptional.”
“You don’t have to.” Again, Camillo smiled that smile of his that seemed old and worn in for him.
“But I do.”
“You can’t hide from everybody.”
“I know. Thank you so much. For everything. Your family is lovely, and you should hold on to them as dearly as possible.”
Camillo nodded and went to bed.
Nannade had been given a large sack of straw and few Blankets to sleep in the living room for the night.
She lay awake for a while and imagined what it was like, not being the subject of anatomical study for someone elseas she grew up. Not being that exceptional. Growing up with others of her kind. She always accepted to be the only one of her kind for miles and miles around. It never occurred to her that there were people like her, and now that she was aware of it, she had that frightening thing attached to her everywhere she went. And they could tell.
Just before sleep could take her, she was awoken by something. She sat upright before realizing what it had been. Was it a scream of pain? She could no longer tell. Sleep eventually took her for good, but something was waiting for her there.