A NEW FRIEND
A Tale from The Lotus Chronicles
The cold bit at Carmon’s skin. Spring had finally broken winter’s long night, but Carmon’s thin dress was little protection against the elements. She leaned against the doorframe of the Flaming Hare and drew on her cigarette. The Trappers and Miners were steadily filing into Beavers streets. Madam was making the girls work a day shift as well as the nights. Only the night girls were allowed a sweater to keep away the cold. The more flesh the day girls showed the better, or at least that was Madam said. Carmon wrapped her arms around herself and blew smoke.
She watched a young girl help her father unload their wagon. They were Trappers by the look of it. She wore a long wool dress the color of wheat. Her hair was a medium brown and hung over her shoulders in two long braids. She wasn’t much younger than Carmon, but she moved and smiled with an air of innocence Carmon had lost long ago.
The girl’s father carried a stack of furs into the warehouse across the street. The girl pulled a blanket out of the back of the wagon and hugged it to herself. She hesitated before looking around and rushing across the street. She walked right up to Carmon and held out the blanket. Her bright green eyes flashed up at Carmon and then away.
Typical. Carmon thought. No one looked her in the eye. Not anymore.
“Here.” The girl said and held out the blanket. “I made this for you.”
Carmon looked at the quilt, small stars bursting in a spiral pattern from each corner. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing Carmon had ever seen. She didn’t know what to say. She touched the soft fabric, and the girl slipped it into her arms.
“Why?” Carmon finally said.
The girl shrugged. “You look cold.”
“Lark!” A man barked from the other side of the street.
The girl jumped and ran across the street like a scared rabbit. Carmon unfolded the quilt and wrapped it around herself, reveling in its warmth. A small slip of paper tumbled to the ground. She bent over and picked up the paper, careful not to get the blanket in the mud. She unfolded the small slip, there in black ink were three impossible words. Words that struck a chord in Carmon’s heart and brought tears to her eyes. Words she had long believed weren’t true, but she wanted them to be true. More than anything she wanted those words to be true.
Kurios loves you.
“Lark!” Da called.
Lark jumped and darted across the street, picking up her skirt as she did. The mud was deep enough she could see herself tripping and getting her whole caked in it. Her Da waited for her by the wagon a scowl darkening his powerful features. He wore the cap she’d made him over the winter to keep his head warm. His blue eyes glowed beneath its darkness.
“What have I told you?” Arlo said once she came near.
“To stay near the wagon,” Lark said looking at her feet. “But, Da, I was just across the street. It’s only ten feet. That’s still near the wagon.”
“I don’t care if that building is two feet away,” Arlo growled. “I don’t want you near there again. Do you understand?”
“But, Da…” Lark began.
“No, Lark.” Arlo snapped. “You do as you’re told.”
Lark met her father’s eye and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Arlo said, with a breath of relief. “Now I want you to come inside and meet someone.”
The plank boards of the walkway creaked under Lark’s feet as she followed her Da into the warehouse. The warehouse was dark compared to the blinding sunlight, but Lark’s eyes adjusted quickly, as always. Stacks of crates surrounded them some reaching as high as the rafters. Lark gawked and wondered how they could stack them so high.
“There’s a new Guild in town,” Arlo explained as they walked. “The Skeleton Key Trading Company, it’s run by a north woman. Now you know how I feel about Guilds and women Guild masters, but I like this one and she’s agreed to pay us double.”
Lark’s ears perked at that. With double the money for their furs, she’d be able to buy more cloth and wool. Perhaps there would be more people in need of her blankets next year and this was Kurios’s way of providing her with the supplies for making them.
“Master Margo,” Arlo called as they approached the rail dock.
A tall woman with short blond hair turned to them. She wore a fine wool dress dyed a light blue, a massive sword strapped to her back. Lark wondered how the woman expected to use the sword in a dress. It didn’t seem practical.
“Arlo.” The woman smiled. “Have you considered my offer?”
“I’d like you to meet my daughter.” Arlo introduced them. “Lark, this is Master Margo of the Skeleton Key Trading Company. We’ll be doing business with her from now on.”
Lark held out her hand and the larger woman gripped it in greeting. “Nice to meet you, Master Margo, I look forward to doing business with you.”
The woman’s grin grew, scrunching the key-shaped tattoo under her right eye. “You have a firm grip young lady. I look forward to doing business with you. Your father has the finest furs in the northern territories.”
“Thank you,” Lark said. Uncomfortable with the woman’s flattery. “We do our best with the skills Kurios has blessed us with.”
Margo laughed. “Oh, aren’t you a sweet little angle? Well dear one, your Kurios has blessed us both with those skills of yours. Come, let me help you with the rest of your wares and then I’ll treat you both to a hot meal.”
“Thank you, Master Margo,” Arlo said, his voice gruff. “But we’ll manage.”
Margo shook her head. “I insist.”
“Then we’d be happy to accept.” Lark was quick to say. Her Da shot her a dark look. He didn’t like people, but she was lonely, and it’d be nice to talk with another woman for a change.
Arlo’s expression softened under Lark’s pleading gaze and he turned back to the north woman. “A hot meal would nice, thank you.”
“Splendid.” Margo beamed.
They sorted through the stock of furs. Margo selecting the best for herself and packing the others away for later sale. Lark could tell as the north woman had her da examined the furs that Arlo’s opinion of the north woman grew with every minute. Lark liked the woman’s calm manner and frank speech. During their conversation they discovered Margo had recently returned to the north after serving along the southern border to attain her writ. Lark groaned as Arlo brightened, knowing her father would jump at the chance to recount his adventures in those lands. But they would be worth hearing again to make a new friend.