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Chapter 3: The Cursewright's Client, Part 5

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At first he thought Casimir must have been thrown out of the Libraries. Some of the deacons were utter shits, and he had half anticipated such an outcome. Then he realized the boy was leading a slender figure in a comically oversized cloak, and that the expression on his face was profoundly anxious. Frowning, Ammas rose from his chair and turned over his shingle, wondering if this was a client, or if this was trouble.

"Master Ammas," Casimir panted as he led the figure by the hand, helping it climb the shallow steps of the portico. "This lady is named Mari. She asked if she might hire you for -- for an illness."

Mari lowered her hood, a tumble of raven black hair spilling from it as she surveyed the cursewright with her brightly hazel eyes. Ammas felt a queer sense of doubling. He had seen this woman before, or someone very like her, but the memory was so foggy it might as well have been of a dream. A dream of shivering candlelight and soft but lively music and a voice of song so gorgeous it might have been an enchantment. Shaking his head he turned to Casimir, his eyebrows rising far enough to disappear under the brim of his charm-bedecked hat. "Her name is Mari, and she has an illness. I take it you never made it to the Libraries?"

Casimir frowned. "I did! I mean, I did, Master Ammas." Even now he had enormous trouble thinking of Ammas as "master" anything, perhaps because he rarely insisted on the title. But when he was dealing with a client it was necessary, and Casimir knew it. "She had gone there looking for you. Deaconess Hadeen said so."

Now Ammas regarded Mari not just with professional interest but real curiosity. "Take the meats down to the cellar, Casimir." It didn't do to use the word catacombs in front of a brand new client. "We'll address your current assignment another time. Because your next one is going to be how to question a prospective client."

The boy looked over his shoulder unhappily at Ammas until the cursewright tipped him a wink, at which the shame around the boy's chest dissolved immediately. Once Casimir had disappeared into the temple, Ammas gave Mari his full attention, again struck by that tantalizing flash of memory. The girl was lovely, but why should she make him think of music?

"Now," he said in a businesslike air, clasping his hands together. "I ask your pardon for my apprentice. He's still rather new."

"And very young," the woman remonstrated, frowning. "I did not expect you even to have one, honestly."

"Nor did I, quite frankly. But he's a good lad. A very capable lad." He invited her to sit at the little table, pulling out the chair for her. It did not escape Ammas's eye that she seated herself with a studied courtliness that was visible even through the concealing folds of the cloak. "Seretto tea?" He offered an empty cup, raising the steaming kettle in one hand.

She shook her head. "I am afraid I don't much care for it."

Ammas nodded and sat down, pouring himself a cup nonetheless. As he did the young woman untucked a thick cable of lustrous black hair from the back of her cloak, a soft sigh of satisfaction escaping her lips as she allowed it to breathe again. A faintly stale odor of sweat rose from her as she did it. Ammas wondered how long she had been on the road.

Next door on the porch of the Prideful Lioness, Selene and Katya were sharing a stick of kossun smoke, passing it back and forth, watching the proceedings with a pair of lively eyes. "Oh, she's a pretty one, Ammas!" Selene called out with a laugh. "Come on over here, lovely! You'll be the girl of the month!" Katya collapsed against her, laughing, mischief dancing in both their eyes.

Mari's cheeks flushed as if she'd been slapped, her gaze turning on the two of them angrily. Deciding at once to put an end to this before it began, Ammas threw the girls a filthy look, making them quail a bit -- they weren't used to such from the cursewright, even when they took it in their heads to tease him -- and helped Mari back to her feet, hurrying her into the temple's shadowy interior. The woman, whatever else she might be, was clearly a noble, and it seemed unwise to subject her to the Lioness girls' sense of propriety. Silently he wondered if Mari had ever even seen a brothel before.

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by HouseofMourthia (Dan Minucci)
Ammas Mourthia is a cursewright: an outlawed magician sworn to break...
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