The girls would slip from the bustling alleyway and through the leather hangings, shivering slightly as the tanned strips touched their pale skin. The room they would find themselves in was dim and smoke filled and their anxious eyes would jump from one item to another seeking comfort through familiarity. There was nothing here to fill that role. Walls, floor and hanging from the ceiling, were all kinds of confused arcanery.
A voice from the darkness would bid them welcome, but not in a welcoming way. Instructions were given to leave their payment in the beaten brass bowl before them. More often than not, as the girls followed the voice into a darkened doorway, small damp leather pouches of gold dust, heavily creased from being gripped in clenched fists would slowly unfold, relaxing in a way these girls could not.
The next room was much like the last, but for two items. A glass bowl, more globe-like than serving utentil, filled with a liquid glowing with a warm light sat on a table. The bowl was the brightest thing in the room, brighter than the guttering tallow candles and the smokey oil lamps. The scond item dominated the centre of the room, a well worn wooden chair, the seat cut with a round slot. In some places this would called a birthing stool, but not here.
A small beaker was passed to the girl and she was instructed to drink. As the last drops passed her lips she was instructed to “Hurry, hurry!” and remove her underclothes and sit on the chair. Often the girls would not be quick enough and would fall senseless to the ground, causing annoyed tuts from the voice, and huffs and grunts as they were dragged and lifted into the correct position. This was the best order of things to stop the girls running from this place before the task they had come to do, was completed.
The voice that ordred the girls to hurry emanated from a shape covered head to toe in fabric. Layers of shapeless clothing, in non descript colours meant nothing of the form underneath could be discerned. Sure a pair of eyes glittered from a dark slit, but they were so far recessed that for the most part, nothing would show there at all. Girls who had never visited this place whispered that the voice was owned by a ghost, the girls that had visited shuddered and said nothing.
The mass of cloth moved to the girl and with dextrous hands performed the task the girls had paid her for. Then the bowl’s light went from a cheery yellow to a warm red. A leather cover was tossed over the red light and the room was lit only by candles and lamps. The girl in the chair was roughly shaken to wake, was given a cold beaker of what tasted like the juice of some fruit and then again exhorted to “hurry, hurry” to make herself decent and leave out a door into the back alley.
This was when the cloth covered woman’s work really began.
No one in the town thought twice about the fairies. They had been here as long as people could remember. Legends had them coming with the people’s ancestors across the seas from the frozen lands. Fairies were like flies, they could be annoying but for the most part you did not seek them out if they were not buzzing around your head.
The fairies had a rudimentary intelligence, if you shouted at them, or waved your hand too close to them, they would retreat and watch with their tiny red eyes. They made only the slightest noise while flying, and none at all when they perched and while people told stories about what they did, none of the average townspeople really knew. While each fairy was different, no one really looked at them to notice. Can you look at one sparrow and discern it from another? That is it with fairies.
Mam, the woman covered in cloth knew better. Her mother had taught her, and she would teach her daughter, making fairies was a process that could be taught. What her mother hadn’t taught her, but a skill she was priddeful about (not that she could tell anyone else) was that she could use the fairies as eyes and ears throughout the town and make even more gold dust selling those secrets to the spies.
Fairies were naturally curious but understood nothing of what they saw. Mam had chuckled many a time when a fairy had come to her with tales of a man grunting on a woman in a bed, or two women moaning like they were in terrible pain; or her favourite, two men chewing on eachother’s private parts! Mam would snatch the fairy out of the air and inhale the memory straight from the fairy’s mind, she had learned this skill from the memory taker along the street. He used some contraption, but she used her connection with the arcane. The fairies seemed none the worse for the loss of that memory, unlike those that gave up theirs for money.
To be continued