I stood facing the window, my back to the two men standing on the other side of my desk. My two advisors, closest friends, and the only men I trusted in this world. I tapped my fingers against each other, as I listened to the two rivals argue with one another. It was the same argument they always had, who would have made the kill first in one situation or another, the merits of different weapons. I let out a heavy sigh and turn back around to face them, they both shut their mouths and looked at me, waiting for orders.
I pulled my chair out and sat down, I shifted a few pieces of paper on my desk and glanced up at them. “Tell me again what we need to do today,” I said.
“Ma’am we need to find a new accountant, to replace Cin,” The man on the right said, he was slightly shorter than the other man, with swept back dark brown hair, his blue green eyes sparkles, having spoken before his counterpart.
I pressed my fingers to the bridge of my nose. “A new accountant?” I whispered.
I looked up and there he stood, his green eyes smiling down at me. “Are you ready my dear?” He asked, I smiled, and pushed myself up from the table. I straightened my apron and grabbed my basket from the table. He would walk me to work as he always did, it insured that I would not be harassed or stopped on the streets. Once I was safely at the bakery he would make his way to the bank and pick me up at the end of the day.
“The weather is very pleasant is it not?” I asked my husband as he escorted me down the cobblestone path outside our door. We were fortunate to live in this part of the city, this district was only one step down from the nobilities winter housing. I was fortunate that my father was well liked by my husband’s father, and had been able to make this match for me. We had been married for six months and I enjoyed his company, he was kind and cared about my well being.
“It is indeed,” He replied, “Do you have plans for this evening’s supper?” He asked.
I had not given it much thought, it was not unusual for us to stop at the butchers on the way home, “Perhaps a nice hen, I can ask Milda if I can prepare a special loaf for our dinner tonight and she can remove the cost from my wage,”
“That sounds like a great idea,” He said politely, as we stepped out onto the busy main street and joined the throng of people headed about their mornings.
The Hatchling Bakery was the finest bakery in the Gold District, and the only bakery in the commoner city that had a dragon fueled oven. The sign over the door was a little golden dragon, curled around a golden brown roll. The smell of fresh bread wafted out of the open windows. I turned to face my husband, he smiled down at me, took my hand and kissed it.
“Have a pleasant day dear,” He said.
“You as well husband.” I said, he nodded and headed of further down the street.
I turned through the door to the shop, and greeted the owner. Milda was an older woman, in her late fifties, her hands bleached white from years of kneading dough. Her gray hair was pulled back in a tight bun, her brown eyes met mine as I stepped through the door.
“Good morning dear, how was your evening?” She asked in her pleasantly high voice.
“Quite well, how has your morning been Milda?” I replied.
“Oh well indeed,” She said, “Ras is already hard at work in the kitchen. Are you ready for your walk yet?” She asked.
“If you have a batch ready of course I am,” I replied.
“Just about, how about you set your things in the back, and I will get the basket ready to go,” I nodded, and handed her my basket. I placed my small bag, with my personal items in the back room and called a greeting to Milda’s husband in the kitchen.
The old man was hard at work, mixing a new batch of dough, and singing to the draling perched near the stove. The miniature dragon, was chortling along with the man’s song, Ras waved to me, and continued singing. I pulled my vest from the rack and put it over my shoulders, on the left breast was the Hatchling Bakery’s symbol, and the pockets would hold my change and the money I earned throughout the day. I made my way back to the front counter, where Milda was filling my basket with rolls, loafs and buns.
“How is your husband?” Milda asked, as I came around the counter to help her.
“Oh he is well, he was looking forward to some great new account he is working on at the bank,” I said.
“Oh bless his heart, I could not bring myself to do such work, staring at numbers all day, sounds dreadful,” I smiled, yes I imagine it would be for someone who had only known baking their whole life.
“It is not so different from what you do managing the shop,” I said politely, “You handle all the numbers here, he handles many more numbers and large sums to be sure but it is not so different,”
“Oh deary aren’t you just a sugar cube,” She laughed, “Hear that Ras, she thinks I can be a banker,” She called to her husband.
“What are you on about woman?” Ras laughed, “You can barely do the sums for our own accounts how could you be a banker?” Milda laughed, and handed me my basket.
“Here is your change,” She said, handing me a sack I knew contained, ten silver coins and fifty coppers.
“Oh Milda, can I ask for a special loaf for my supper tonight, and have you charge my account?” I asked before I went to leave.
“Oh but of course dear,” Milda assured me, “Ras, get a dinner loaf in the oven next chance you got,” She called.
“It isn’t even lunch,” Ras snapped back.
“It’s not for you husband,” Milda roared, “Besides the last thing you need is more bread,” I laughed and pushed the coin purse into a pocket.
“I will see you in a little while,” I called to her, as I headed out the door.
Like every day I made my way through the market, calling out for people to buy some of the Hatchling’s bread. I would make my rounds until either I was out of bread to sell, or midday when I would return to the bakery to eat a small meal before heading back out. As with most mornings the market was full of women going about their daily shopping, and I was able to empty my basket within an hour.
I made my way back to the Hatchling to refill the basket, there was a line out the door of people waiting to make purchases. I greeted the regulars and made my way behind the counter. I took out the bag of gold in my right pocket and dropped it into the deposit box. I helped Milda with the counter deliveries over the next few hours.
At midday I sat in the kitchen beside the heat of the stove. Flicking chucks of meat from my stew through the air to the draling, he greedily snatched them from the air, his little wings carrying him around the room as quick as any pigeon. I was lucky to work here and be able to interact with such a creature. The dragon trade had become illegal a few years back, and their eggs were more precious than gold. Fortunately the Hatchling had a license to own one draling for its kitchen.
After lunch I refilled my basket and headed back out into the heat of the afternoon. It took longer to empty the basket this time, as the market was always emptier in the afternoon. Many people were at their jobs by this time, and the women in this district would be home attending to their households. I made my way through the market to the outer edge of the district, in hopes of finding a few customers in the homes there.
With some luck I returned to the bakery with an empty basket. Milda was happy to see me, she took the basket from me, I dropped the bag of gold in the box and handed her the silver and copper.
“How was your day darling?” She asked as I took a seat on the stool behind the counter.
“I believe it was a good day, as far as I could tell not one roll was swiped, and everyone seemed happy to see me.” I said.
“What great news,” She sang. “Here is that loaf you asked for,” She said, handing me a linen wrapped parcel, “And your wage,” I took the coins and counted them in my hands, three silver, one gold and nine copper.
“This is my normal wage,” I stated, “How much for the loaf,”
“Dear, I have never charged you for your loaves or your lunch, I’m not about to start now,” She stated, wiping down the counter with a damp cloth. She greeted a customer as he came in, handed him his purchase and turned back to me. “Without you out there willing to face the heat and the cold we would not bring in as much coin, you have been a blessing these last months.” I let out a sigh and gave the older woman a hug.
“I greatly appreciate it,” I said. “I’m sure Jon will appreciate it as well,”
“What do I appreciate?” Jon asked as he stepped through the door, his over jacket look a little ruffled, and his black boots head extra dust on them today.
“That Milda and Ras take such good care of me,” I said, picking my basket of the counter and stepping around to greet him.
“That I do,” He nodded. “Have a pleasant evening Milda,” He waved, as he held the door open for me.
We made our way down the street, stopping as we usually did at the butcher’s and the produce stands. Jon was greeted by people he knew, and he was often so lost in thought that he did not acknowledge them until I pointed it out. As we made our way through the housing back to our own home I continued to note that he seemed far away. As he fumbled with the key for the front door I gently took it from him and did it for him.
“Dear?” I asked, he looked at me, blinking for a moment.
“Are you well? You have seemed quite distracted since we left the Hatchling,” I said.
“Oh,” He whispered, “Yes I am well, I just had a long and unpleasant day, I am glad to be here with you.”
I kissed him on his scruff covered cheek, “As am I, retire to the lounge, I will prepare dinner and fetch you when it is ready.” I said, he smiled and nodded, making his way to the lounge.
I knew I would find him there mauling over some papers when I came to fetch him. As our supper cooked I sat at my own desk, beneath the bay window in our kitchen and worked on my correspondence. My uncle had set me a letter, once again asking me to sign over my portion of my father’s estate to his control, when my father had passed away five months ago his company had passed to his only male heir, his younger brother, but he had given me controlling interest in the business, and my uncle was not fond of a woman having so much say in his dealings.
While I have no interest in the company, I will not give away the only thing my loving father left me. I leave the day to day business in your capable hands. Please do not continue to request I set it to you, because this will not happen. If it will put your mind at ease I will pass the holdings to my husband, and you may deal with him in the business.
Your dear niece
I sealed the letter with my wax stamp and moved onto the next letter. There was one from a childhood friend, I replied to her letter, she was about to have her second child, I promised I would visit her next summer. The last letter was addressed to Jon, I slipped it into my apron pocket and finished my chores in the kitchen.
When I had served dinner onto our plates at our simple wooden table, I went to fetch my husband from his office on the second floor of the house. I knocked as was polite, this was his place, I was only allowed in with his permission. He called for me and I pushed the door open. He was standing at the window, looking down at the street below. He barely glanced in my direction as I stepped into the room.
“Jon?” I asked, “I found a letter for you in my mail,” I said, slipping the paper from my pocket and placing it on his desk. His things had not been moved since this morning, he had not done any work for the last hour. “Jon are you all right?” I asked.
He glanced at me from the window, and blinked slowly, as though just noticing me. “Yes dear, just troubled from work,” He said.
“If you would like to speak about it, I will be glad to listen,” I smiled, I might not have his gift with numbers but I was more than capable for a woman.
“Perhaps after dinner,” He mused, “I am not sure it is anything but today was a long day,” He said, he stepped around his desk and took my arm, and escorted me down to our table.
As we ate I recounted my day in the market. I was mid-sentence about the draling in the Hatchling’s kitchen when he cut me off. “Darling I have something to tell you,” He said, he reached into his pocket and pulled out what I thought at first was an oval black rock. He set it on the table in front of me. “It is a draling egg,” He said. I picked up the surprisingly warm black stone, its glittered mirroring a gem of jet.
“Where,” I whispered, I looked up at him, his face was solemn.
“It fell from a client's bag today, and it was not the only one. This one slid under my desk, I saw it this afternoon when I was leaving,” He shook his head.
“This is against royal decree,” I whispered, as though whispering would keep the law from knowing.
“I know, but I cannot give this back to the owner, I would be an accomplice to his crime, nor can we keep this it, I do not know what to do,” He exclaimed, I could see he was getting frustrated, “And now I have brought you into this mess, I am sorry dear, I should have had more sense than to bring this to your attention,” He stood and kissed my forehead, taking the egg from my hand. “I have to return this to its owner, and hope that nothing ill comes of it,” He said, he slipped upstairs and came back without the egg.
It was a struggle to return to a resemblance of normality that evening, as we were both distracted by the thought of the draling egg, laying within Jon’s bag. What if the egg hatched here in our home, what if its owner found out and turned us in, what if our home was raided by the Gold Guard? The questions spun through my mind the rest of the night, I found a restless sleep, and woke with a start at every sound.
In the morning as I fried up a few cockitice eggs for our breakfast, I observed my husband standing nervously at our street view window, in the lounge, he was ringing his hands and fussing with his overcoat. He jumped when I came up behind him with our breakfast, he turned to face me and forced a smile to his face.
“Thank you dear,” He said, taking his plate and sitting at our table.
“I will need to come to the bank after work this afternoon, I need to transfer control of the company to your name, so that my uncle will leave me alone about selling my shares,” I said, he narrowed his eyes.
“Is he still on about that,” I nodded, “Very well, I hate to take that from you, but I will take your council under advisement before I do anything with your father’s company,” He said kindly, it was not required for a man to be so kind to a woman, but I am glad that my husband was the kind of man to care about a woman’s feelings.
“Thank you husband,” I smiled.
We walked in silence to the Hatchling and his kissed my cheek and wished me a good day. I watched him walked stiffly through the market and disappear down the street of gold. I pushed through the door or the shop and greeted Milda.
My day was thankfully uneventful, selling out of the goods in my basket quickly enough and helping Milda run the store front, just as any other day. She let me go early so that I could make my way to the bank. I walked through the empty market square, nodding greeting to stall owners I knew, as they shuttered their shops for the evening. I stopped the pie maker as he was packing up his leftovers.
“Can I purchase one, Mil?” I asked, reaching into my apron for my coins.
“Of course anything for you dear,” He smiled, he lifted a pie from his cart and placed it in my basket, I handed him the silver coin for the pie, and lay my linen cover over the pie.
“Thank you Mil, be well, I will make sure Jon thanks you on his way by tomorrow morning,” The old man nodded and I turned onto the street of gold.
I smiled to the men in their overcoats, as I passed by their offices. The street of gold was full of accounting offices, banks, and creditors. I pushed through the crowd on the street to the bank my husband worked for. All of our accounts were handled through his bank, and they would have my papers on hand to transfer to Jon. I stepped up the wide marble staircase and between the great white pillars without the large bronze doors. I moved into the large hall beyond, my footsteps echoing on the polished marble floor. I smiled at the clerk behind the gold bars across the hall from me. The young woman, Lisa, I had met here when she had started working, she was a light hearted woman, who laughed at the slightest hint of a joke. Today when she saw me her smile faded, her eyes filled with tears.
“Lisa are you well?” I asked, stepping to the counter.
“Oh no, oh no, I'm so sorry,” She sobbed.
My heart dropped, I felt like a pit opened in my stomach, what had happened. “What is the matter Lisa?”
“Mrs. Balaur,” I turned at the deep voice that echoed across the marble, the man was Jensen Jaris, he was the head banker here and rarely left his accounts to come out to the hallway.
“Lord Jaris, how great to see you,” I said, curtsying, the man shook his head sadly.
“Please come with me,” He said flatly.
“My Lord, where is Jon?” I asked.
“That is why I need you to come with me,” He offered his arm, hesitantly I placed my shaking hand on his forearm and he lead me out to the street, he opened a black carriage door and gestured for me to climb in. “Everything will become clear,” He said. I glanced at the driver, a man in a neat dark suit and a frown on his face as he glanced down at me.
I climbed into the cabin and took a seat, Lord Jaris took a seat across from me, and closed the door. The carriage pulled away from the bank and down the street towards the royal district. I kept my eyes down, I was nervous and scared, but I had no right to question a man of authority. The carriage turned towards the bethel, I gawked openly why were we going to the bethel, there were only two reasons someone went there except to worship, a grand wedding or a death.
“No,” I whispered under my breath, the carriage stopped at the base of the staircase, Lord Jaris opened the door and climbed out, I just sat there in the dim light of the carriage cabin, shaking my head. “No,” I whispered again, as I took the Lord’s offered hand and climbed from the cabin. He escorted me up to stairs and through a side entrance I had never used before, the entrance lead to a staircase that descended to a dimly lit corridor below.
Two weeks had passed, I sat in the back room of the Hatchling, numbly eating my lunch. I still could not bring myself to face the truth, I could not bring myself to read all the letters that had piled up in my home.
He had been laid on a stone slab, and draped in a white shroud. The Priest of the Silence had peeled back the shroud and revealed his face to me. I fell to my knees and cried, my husband was gone, Lord Jaris had explained that he had gone to a business meeting, and was found about midday in an alley. His chest had been opened by multiple knife wounds, and his throat had been cut. It was assumed that he had been robbed, due to his appearance, and the part of the city he had been in.
I could not do this again, I had only lost my father less than a year ago, and now my husband too was gone. Milda and Ras had been so kind to me over the last weeks, allowing me to leave work if I need too, keeping me company and making sure that no one mentioned Jon.
“Mrs. Balaur,” I glanced up, a man in a dark overcoat stood in the doorway to the back room. The man was out of place here, his finely pressed cloths, clean shaven face, and a thick leather bag in his hands. He looked like a noble, here in the common market place, something was wrong.
“Sir the storefront is back through the way you came,” My voice cracked, he nodded.
“Yes I know, I am here to speak with you Mrs. Balaur,” He said, taking an unoffered seat at the table across from me. “My name is Alma, I have been sent by your uncle, Master Perish, has asked that I settle some issues with your late father’s estate,” I felt a chill work up my spine, and the heat rise to my cheeks.
“Mr. Alma, I am sorry, but I have only recently lost my husband, can we do this at a later date?” I requested.
“Master Perish, has requested this to be done as soon as possible, this is because of your husband’s death, he no longer feels that you are allowed to have any interest in the company known as Lunar Shipment. He has sent this contract for you to sign,” He slid a leather envelope from his bag and placed it on the table before me.
Angry tears began to fill my eyes as I opened the parcel, the handwriting glared up at me, I could see my uncle’s name scattered across the parchment. He was taunting me in my time of pain, hoping to use my female emotions against me.
“I will not sign away my interest in the company my father started.” I growled, when I was done reading the sheet.
“You misunderstand Mrs. Balaur,” Alma said. “I am not here to ask, if you do not sign this contract, which Mr. Perish has been kind enough to offer you double the current value of your shares. If you do not sign this, it will be taken from you, Mr. Perish is ready to take steps to take the company from you through legal steps, as the only male heir in your family, the company is rightfully his, if you do not sign this you will never see any money.” The hair on my arms stood on end, I could not give up what was mine, but what choice did I have. Alma held out a quill.
I took the quill, and dipped it in the ink he offered. “Why does my uncle care if I still have a controlling interest?” I asked.
“It is not my place to ask,” He replied.
“He does not even have to courage to face me and ask me himself,” I growled, I let out a heavy sigh and put my mark at the base of the contract. “I hope he loses everything,” I said, touching my thumb to the end of the ink trail. I shoved the contract back at Alma and rose to my feet.
“I thank you, and I am sure your uncle will keep a good eye on the company for you.” I glared at him, “Your funds will be transferred into your account later today,” He said. “Do you have anything you wish to pass on to your Uncle?”
“Tell you I hope he dies as alone as I am now,” I growled, I swept from the room, my footfalls echoing down the short hall. I sat behind the counter the rest of the afternoon, taking coins from the bakery’s patrons.
I hated my uncle, I had as long as I could remember, he was ten years older then myself, and I would blame him for many of the problems I had for the rest of my life. The things he had done to me as a child would haunt me all my days, if not for him, my father may have been able to find me a match sooner in life. I had been fortunate that Jon had been willing to take a wife so mistreated early in life. I shivered, as the image of my uncle swept through my mind, that monster had taken the only thing I had left in this life.
“Have a pleasant evening,” Milda said, handing me my days pay, and a cheese pastry.
“Thank you, you as well,” I said. Part of me wanted to go home, and another part wanted to go check my accounts at the bank.
I worked my way through the market square and up the street of gold. I climbed the steps and moved through the marble columns into the bank’s lobby. The electric lights buzzing overhead in their copper fixtures. I stood waiting in line to speak with the clerk behind the gold bars.
“May I help you Mrs. Balaur?” The young man asked, he had a kind face, covered in freckles, and the wisps of a red colored beard to match the red hair on his head.
“I would like to check the totals of my account?” I said.
“Of course,” He said happily, he wrote my name on a small slip of parchment and handed it to a page. The young boy, slipped away through the rows of clerks behind the counter. “Please have a seat someone will come to give you the totals when they have been calculated.”
“Thank you,” I said, I took a seat on a cold marble slab and picked at the bread in my basket.
“Mrs. Balaur?” I looked up, an accountant stood in a doorway at the back of the room. “Please come with me.” I followed the man to an office, he pulled out a seat from his desk and offered it to me. The office was small, cramped, the walls covered with shelves of scrolls and account ledgers, the desk was a solid wood block, stacked high with books piles of quills and ink bottles.
“Is there a problem with my account?” I asked, as I took the seat, and placed my basket on the ground beside me, my hands folded neatly in my lap.
“No not at all Mrs. Balaur, what information would you like,” I smiled happily.
“Great to hear, may I know the totals please,” I waited patiently as the accountant added up the numbers on the ledger in front of him. Watching him do his work took my mind back to Jon, and when I would sit in the den of our home working on my needle work as he sat across from me, working on this account or that account. I fought back the tears, I missed my husband, so kindhearted, why had he been taken from me.
“Here you are,” The accountant handed me a sheet of paper, I smiled at the number, my uncle had paid the sum he had promised me.
“Excellent, may I please make a withdrawal?” I asked. I had several accounts I needed to pay off, since Jon’s funeral, I would soon be deeply in debt if I did not pay off the creditors.
“Do you have a letter from Mr. Perish, with his permission to make a withdrawal?” He asked.
“Excuse me?” I felt the pit open back up in my stomach, what did he mean.
“Mr. Perish is the beneficiary of this account, you need a signed letter from him, allowing you to make withdrawals from this account.”
“What do you mean, my uncle is the owner of this account since when?” I demanded. The accountant tilted his head at me.
“Since your husband’s death,” He said flatly, “Your husband had no brothers, his father is passed, Mr. Perish, is his next of kin,”
“No I was his wife, my uncle had no right to this money, it is mine.” The accountant gave me a smile, his eyes soften.
“Oh dear, Mrs. Balaur, that is not how these things work, you know this, it would only pass to you if there were no men in the family left to inherit, but that is not the case, so if you need this money so badly, please come back with a letter from Mr. Perish, or have Mr. Perish send you the money himself.” I felt the blood rush to my face, this was an outrage, my uncle had taken everything from me.
I stood and grabbed my basket from the ground, I had no more words, I glared at the accountant across from me. The logical part of my mind told me this young man was not the cause of my problems but that was not the part that controlled my actions at that moment.
“This is an outrage,” I screamed, and turned on my heel, I ran from the bank, tears flooding down my cheeks. I ran all the way back to the house, and I through my basket into the staircase, it smashed in half, just as the pumpkins Raz used to make pies in the fall. I threw myself onto my bed and screamed into my pillows. All the money, Jon and I had earned was gone, out of my reach forever, all I had were the coins I had earned this week. I would not be able to pay my debts and I would lose this home if I did not come up with a solution soon.
The next morning, as soon as I awoke I went to the Hatchling. I explained to Milda that I would need the day off to handle some of Jon’s last affairs. Of course Milda was more than understanding of the situation and told me to return to work when I was ready. I did not have the heart to tell her I would have to return to work the next day, or risk falling further into debt.
I stepped out of the Hatchling’s doors and into the bright morning light of the market square. I had not left the inner city in months, and I certainly had never done so alone. I thumbed the dagger I had slipped into my belt, and double checked the small coin purse in the pocket of my bodice. Where I was going, I would need to be brave.
As I worked my way through the inner city and towards the outer wall, I felt the dread growing in my gut. The morning was already warm it was going to be a humid day down in the outer city. I arrived at the gate some time later, city guards were recording papers and shipments of merchants traveling to the markets of the inner city. A guard stepped away from the shadow of the wall to stop me, his shining bronze armor glinting in the morning light, one hand rested on his sword hilt while the other was hooked through his belt.
“Ma’am do you realize you are leaving the inner city,” He asked holding up a chainmail covered hand.
“I do realize this, I need to see my uncle he runs a merchant yard down at the wharf.” I said curtly.
“The outer city is no place for a lady,” He began, “Where is your chaperonin?” He asked.
“I do not have one, nor do I need one, I will be fine, please let me pass,” Behind the man’s helm I saw his eyes narrow in concern. “I am no noble lady, my late husband was a banker, I grew up in the outer city, I think I will be all right on my own.”
“Be aware, ma’am that the gate closed at dusk, if you are not back through by that time you will have to find lodging in the outer city,” The guard said, not unkindly.
“Thank you for your concern, I plan to be back long before dusk.” I said, smiling at the man behind the helm.
“Good luck,” He said, as he let me pass through the archway of the gate, the ten foot thick stone walls loomed over me as I walked beneath them. The heavy iron clad wooden gates stood open into the outer city.