It was the first time Tythel had been able to walk in a city freely since Hillsdale. No great plan, no hidden agenda, no battle waiting at the end of it. At least, not that you know of, Tythel reminded herself. The veil was a thick, black affair that covered her head and hung back down over her neck. A circlet rested over her eyebrows, and the cloth attached to it in three places – between the nose, and on either side of her eye, leaving them free to see.
At least, it did in theory. Having only one eye remaining made Tythel more aware of the barrier around her eyes than she thought she would have been had she still had both.
It was said that the warrior maidens of Xhaod wore these masks so that when the sent their foes to the Shadow, it would not see their face and take offense at their violence. Others believed that they wore it so their faces were, in fact, covered in Shadow as a sign of respect for where they would send their foes. The Maidens, for their part, would never speak of the veil’s significance.
At least they don’t mind outsiders wearing it, Tythel thought. The last thing she needed was a cult of warrior assassins coming after her – and it allowed her to walk through the streets of Emerita unmolested. More than just that, in fact – people gave her a wide berth, as if she was walking with drawn steel.
Eupheme seemed less impressed. “It’s absurd, the way they announce themselves wherever they go. A truly dangerous person shouldn’t need to advertise their presence,” she groused, her voice low enough for only Tythel’s ears to hear it.
Tythel had to fight the urge to blink in amusement. It would give her away in an instant. “So where are we going?”
“We need to get a few more things for the road, and I thought it would be best to bring you along with us when we purchased them,” Eupeheme said. Her voice was full of careful innocence. Too much of it.
“You have heavy things you want me to carry,” Tythel said.
“I’m appalled you would suggest such a thing!” Eupheme said, her eyes sparkling with mock outrage. “I’ll have you know, I have extremely heavy things I want you to carry.”
“Flath a cactus,” Tythel said, getting a strangled, shocked laugh out of Eupheme.
“I’m impressed,” Eupheme said. “I didn’t think you knew what flath meant.”
“Um…well…I don’t. Not really, that is.” Tythel said, glad the veil hid her blush. “I just heard one of the soldiers say it, and then he turned red when he saw me, so I figured it was very offensive.”
Eupheme needed a few more blocks to get her laughter under control, her face quietly scrunched up to contain it. Every time she opened her mouth to say…whatever she wanted to say, the giggles would start up again and she’d have to clamp her mouth shut to contain it. Under the embarrassment, Tythel was overjoyed. It had been too long since Eupheme laughed at her being hopelessly naive, and Tythel welcomed the return to what passed for normalcy in her life these days.
It also gave her a chance to look around the city beyond the scope of that one window. At midday in the hottest month of summer, Tythel would have expected most people to have remained in the shade offered by their houses, with the rich even using arclight powered heat extractors to stay cool. Instead, Emerita bustled with activity. Merchants from the three nearby cities stood on street corners. “Fresh meat! Fresh meat! Untouched by Heat Extraction! Get your fresh meat!” one shouted. He was a portly man with a neatly trimmed beard that came down to his chest, with tiny mirrors woven into its braids. “All its humors still intact!” The man’s gaze passed over to Tythel and Eupheme, and’s grin widened. “You lovely ladies want some fresh meat? Freshest meat in the city.”
Tythel strode over to the man, feeling the coins clinking in her pocket. Eupheme hadn’t mentioned anything about eating yet, and Tythel’s stomach growled to remind her she’d only had cold porridge and leftovers brought up from the kitchen for the last two days. “What kind of meat?” she asked.
“Why, the freshest kind, of course!” the man said proudly, giving her a bow. “And not a trace of horse in it, I can assure you of that.”
Tythel opened her mouth to ask why the horse qualifier was so important, then caught Eupheme’s glance. It took her a moment to think before she remembered – the people of Xhaod thought horse was unclean and refused to eat it. “That is well, then. Yet I still do not know what kind of meat it contains.”
The merchant began to tense up. “As I’ve said, fresh meat.”
Tythel shrugged. It not like it matters much. “I’ll take one fresh meat, then,” she said, handing over a silver lock. The merchant obliged quickly, giving her a suitably unidentifiable hunk of meat on a stick.
As they left the merchant, Eupheme made a face. “I can’t believe you’re eating it when he wouldn’t even tell you what it was.”
Tythel rolled her eye. “I never knew my father to eat anything and get ill from it. As long as it’s meat, I can eat.” Tythel bit into the hunk of meat. It was hot and it was filling, with enough spices to disguise whatever the underlying meat was.
Eupheme made a gagging sound. “We’re out of danger right now. You have the establishments of an entire city to choose from. And you went with ‘fresh meat.’ I bet the vendor doesn’t even know what the meat is from.”
Tythel clenched her lips shut and filled her mouth with dragonflame, then swallowed the charred remains. She remembered eating food Karjon had over-flamed when a child, and how the taste had always bothered her. Now? It was sweeter than any spice. “You aren’t bothered when Lorathor eats insects,” Tythel said.
“Lorathor’s a Sylvani. They eat bugs. You, on the other hand? You are…” Eupheme trailed off and frowned. “Okay, didn’t think that one all the way through.”
Tythel blinked in amusement for a moment before catching herself and stopping the motion. “So where are these heavy things you need me to lift.”
Eupheme motioned to an alley ahead. “Right through here. And…let me do the talking? The people we’re meeting with frighten easily at anything new.”
Tythel nodded, although she couldn’t imagine what kind of people would be frightened by her voice.
After all, in all her books, weapons were simple swords and spears. She’d never even thought to consider how illegal weapons deals happened before.