As I expected, packing for school was an enormous chore. After all, I had already gone through the experience, when Robert headed off to college for the first time. But I never expected to be told that I was in the way, and please go read a book or something.
I forgot. The daughter of a duchess is as helpless as a newborn babe. At least, in the eyes of these women. orz.
So instead, while they packed, I borrowed the second carriage and went shopping. My reason was that I needed a new magic focus. Mother had referred me to her favorite, highly exclusive magic tool purveyor.
Yes, I had followed Aunt Elianora’s advice and brought the Fan of Rephale to the Knights, and, just as she predicted, they offered to let me keep custody of it. I am already suffering enough anxiety carrying around the mithril sword Mother insists I use, so I demanded the fan go straight into the royal vault instead.
I was still a little dizzy from the size of the finder’s fee the Palace gave me in return. A thousand crowns. At my imaginary exchange rate of a crown equals two thousand US dollars, that’s around two million dollars. I thought that Uncle Owen ordered them to pay me what a collector would have paid. My heart almost couldn’t take it when they told me it was about five percent.
Two million dollars for something I nearly neglected to pick up. I decided Ceria and Bruna would get a share, no matter what they said.
So, I needed a new magic focus, I was stuffed to the gills with cash, and my destination was ‘Halore & Co.’, apparently the most exclusive purveyor in the kingdom. Except, Mother’s chauffeur appeared to be driving me to a certain highly upscale brothel instead.
Back in Bray Seaport, just before I flew home, I returned to the little place that Tiana had visited five weeks before she died. While I was there, a slightly miffed and jealous Ceria, who had somehow realized where I was headed and followed me, invaded the brothel, insisting that I let her feed me as well. I honestly tried to talk her out of it, but… well, she was very persuasive. She had a lot of help from Robert, I’m afraid.
The owner of the little brothel was delighted to charge us a quarter sovereign for the use of the room. Feeding a second time isn’t easy, though, so Ceria cheerfully proceeded to strip both of us so she could snuggle with me to get my appetite back. Even so, it took me a while, but, fortunately for the Tiana side of my heart, I was able to keep the other activities somewhat limited and defend my chastity in the end.
Thus, I had no need to feed upon arriving home like before. I was about to slide open the little window to the driver’s box to tell him so when he came to a stop in front of a building two doors down from the brothel.
I wondered if he had been instructed by someone in the household to bring me to a different establishment, but when I pulled the curtain back to check, I saw the signboard said, ‘Halore & Co.’
Mother’s favored magic shop kept their office in a red-light district? That was a bit bizarre.
The footman opened the door and I stepped out. I was still perplexed, but I pretended everything was perfectly normal as I entered the shop.
The interior reminded me of some antique shop in an old town trying to renew itself as a tourist destination. The sort of place you might find on Main Street, wedged between a little wannabe hipster coffee shop and a diner advertising its ‘home-made’ pies. Random items lined the tops of cabinets of miscellaneous design, while various magic lanterns and other items hung from the ceiling. A few of them were lit, and it was unclear whether they were intended for sale or simply to illuminate the sales floor.
The proprietor could have stood to light a few more of them. I was fine, but a human would find the place pretty dim.
I saw something familiar looking, hanging on a display that resembled a coat tree. They were silk sashes, with a deep, rich accumulation of mana sticking to them, just like the scarf that Ceria had become instantly attached to. I lifted one of them, admiring its beautiful pattern.
“Oh, my,” came a voice I had heard before. “Now here’s an interesting sight! Good afternoon to you, My Lady.”
I turned to see the speaker, and I think my jaw dropped open. Entering from the back were two women. One appeared around twenty and the other my age. The younger one was a perfectly normal, average looking dwarven girl, pretty but on the pudgy side like most females of her kind. She had brown braids that reminded me a little of the movie “Frozen”, and wore a country girl’s kirtle that reinforced that image.
The older one was…
I cleared my throat. “Um… Miss Dana?”
The auburn-haired beauty was much more modestly dressed than when I last saw her. She was wearing a well-tailored, upscale visiting dress, albeit one with décolletage nearly as low as the gown she had worn in the other location. Her cheeks dimpled as she curtseyed and stated, “Welcome to my shop, My Lady”
Upon witnessing her elder dip and address me as ‘my lady’, the dwarf girl quickly curtseyed as well.
“Um… your shop?” I asked. “The name of the business…”
“Is my sister’s,” she told me. “She sold the business to me when she got bored of running it. She moved to Teriedor to open a house of leisure instead.”
‘House of leisure’ is, of course, a fancier word for brothel. The dwarf girl looked a little surprised at her boss, possibly for making that admission so openly. Since they were just down the street, I assume the girl knew about her boss’s other work.
Dana’s eyes grew a little mischievous. “My stock-in-trade here is magic items, My Lady. If you’re looking for the services you’ve purchased before, we’ll need to slip down the street to my other location. It’s perfectly fine; Bertafred here is quite capable of watching the shop by herself.”
The dwarf girl’s mouth opened a bit and her eyes widened more, and I immediately knew exactly what she thought ‘the services I’ve purchased before’ were. She looked back and forth between us and grew a bit red.
Instantly blushing as well, I waved my hand in negation. “No, no, I’m in the market for a magic item. Really.”
I may have directed the ‘really’ to Bertafred.
“Really?” Dana looked disappointed. “Such a pity. Well, I did notice you admiring the silks.”
“A friend of mine has one like this. It’s the same sort of fabric. It’s… quite high-quality, isn’t it?”
She gave a soft chuckle. “I’m certain My Lady’s eyes can see more than that.”
I cleared my throat. “They can. What is this material?”
“It’s an extremely rare substance known as ‘dwarven gnome silk’.”
She dimpled once again, at my perplexed expression.
“What an odd name,” I finally responded. I mean, which species made it? Dwarf or Gnome?
From her sparkling laughter, one would have thought she was working her other job. But she explained, “Only gnomes know how to keep and cultivate the bomber moths whose juvenile form creates the fibers, My Lady. But they aren’t meticulous enough in their weaving, so normal gnome silk isn’t as valuable. But dwarves know how to weave the thread made by the gnomes into the highest-class cloth.”
I lifted the piece I had been admiring. Thinking Ceria might like an extra, I asked, “How much is an item like this worth?”
Dana answered, “We are asking ten crowns for that one in particular, My Lady.”
I– just barely– managed to not become paralyzed with shock. Once I felt like my voice wouldn’t shake, I took my hands away from it while noting, “It must be amazingly rare stuff.”
“Your friend has a piece like that?”
“She found it during a mine expedition. She loves how she can write formations on it.”
“It would be very good for that,” Dana agreed. “But if your friend is interested in selling it, make sure she knows what a shop could sell it for.”
I nodded. Then I got on topic. “Mother sent me here to buy a new magic focus.”
“Ah, yes, I heard about that. Are you looking for another fan?”
This woman was just going to keep shocking me. I stared at her blankly for a moment… then my mind got in gear as a royal knight. I frowned. “How do you know about that?”
It was, after all, a Royal Secret that the Fan had been recovered.
She chuckled as she began strolling around her shop, checking in various cabinets. I thought I should follow her, so I did. A couple times, she retrieved an object from a draw, inspected it, then put it away with a shake of the head. As she moved, she noted, “My Lady, I am likely the most trusted purveyor of high-end magic items in Atius. The Privy Council insisted that an expert validate the item before paying your finder’s fee. I think it is quite natural that they called me.”
Finally, she turned to Bertafred and asked, “Do you remember the new acquisition I showed you a few weeks ago, the one you were to never show or sell without my permission?”
“Certainly, Mistress,” the dwarf girl answered. “Do you want me to fetch it? I put it away in the basement storeroom so I wouldn’t make a mistake.”
“Please,” she smiled. Bertafred scampered to the back.
As her helper departed, Dana’s hand slipped under the back-flap of my tea gown to begin lightly stroking the bare skin of my upper back. Turning a bit my direction and leaning in, pressing her bosom slightly into my arm, she said, “I’m working the dinner shift, My Lady. Tonight’s menu is crown roast of lamb. I would very much enjoy serving you dinner in bed.”