I know we have only this moment together, but don't let them steal this trinket from me. It is the only memory I have of my daughter and I cannot let it go until it is stained with the blood of her killer.
— Bear's Hunt for His Cub (Act 4, Scene 2)
Linsan had to admit, they all looked beautiful. The seamstress had a dark blue dress that needed only minor alterations and had a beautiful bustle of cream lace and ribbons. Intricate lace ran along the top. Originally the dress was off the shoulder, but Linsan insisted on having it brought tighter to ensure she would have the maneuverability to play her violin if needed. She also had to abandon the full bustle for something narrower that danced along her hips. A quick coat of paint and some ribbons for her case covered up the worst of the burns and scratches; she didn't want to be far from her source of power.
Miska's dress had gloves that disappeared into her sleeves and almost completely covered up her tattoos. The intricate weaving of darker ribbons almost matched the patterns on the skin underneath. The neck had also been brought up tight to cover her markings though there was an occasional flash of tattoo when she swallowed or turned her head.
Both of them had stopped at a hairdresser who brushed out and did their hair in a high pile with artful braids and what felt like a pound of pins. All topped with hats with lace and mesh and flowers.
But compared to Miska and Linsan, Brook shine. She had a green dress the color of the ocean with a moon motif embroidered on it. Layers of taffeta and lace flowed with her flowing movements that must have taken her hours to perfect. Her posture was also flawless; Linsan thought that she looked a lot like Linsan's mother as she laughed gaily with strangers.
The auction house had too much gold and marble for any reasonable building, and that included the banks Linsan had visited. Even in the entry hall—larger than her parent's house—there were easily hundreds of people in dresses and tuxedos milling about. Their discussions were cheerful and gay. Conversations had nothing to do with the violin or the sale. Linsan guessed they just had an excuse to be seen more than the heirloom somewhere in the building.
A thrill raced through Linsan's veins. Despite the reason they were there, it reminded her of the opening nights of her mother's shows. She had only seen a few of them but they were imprinted on her. Reaching up, she stroked her mother's pin for comfort. It was like having a part of her along and Linsan could easily picture her mother taking a deep breath and saying “time to shine.”
“Are you two ready?” Brook asked, a flicker of nervousness audible in her voice. She gestured with a lace fan toward the inner entrance where two guards stood and watched over everyone who passed into the inner chambers.
Beyond the door, Linsan could see more people carousing among the tables covered in white silk and a stage with performs beyond them. She tightened her grip on the handle of her violin case, wishing it was her up on the stage instead of the high-risk position they were in now. “I-I guess. I'm just worried I'm going to screw it up.”
Miska leaned over. She scanned the crowds with an uncomfortable look. “Are we betting on who gets kicked out first?”
It was a lame joke and Linsan could only dredge up a little gallows humor to match it. “I have ten cuks on me.”
Brook's lips tightened into a line. “Please… don't… no….”
She paused to take a deep breath before her eyes flickered to the side. She put on a smile that looked faked as a pair of men passed them. Then the smile froze before she turned to the girls. “No, I'm sorry. We're all anxious here and I have no clue what we're doing. I'm just throwing up whatever sounds right out of my mouth. The only thing I know is that we have to look like we're having fun, we belong here, and we are beautiful.”
Miska grinned, one that reached her eyes. “We all have the last one in crate. We all look amazing and there are already eyes looking toward us.”
“Appreciative looks?” Linsan asked, not wanting to look.
“Yes and more. They make me uncomfortable, I can't tell if they are undressing me or trying to approach me.”
Brook chuckled and fluttered her fan. “Then we're doing it right. If we looked out of place, one of those guards would be asking us to leave. You want the attention of society, not their servants.”
“You mean those guards we need to pass?” Miska added as she looked at the guards ahead of them.
At Brook's nod, she grunted. “Then, my lady, your humble servant is ready to follow you pass those gates.”
Brook glanced at Linsan. “Ready to play your bit?”
“I'm the daughter of Tisin Sterlig, so… no because I'm not my mother. But I'll do my best.”
Brook pulled her into a tight hug. “Come on, let's find either Lord Xasnal or the auctioneer, Tasire Dalisan da Genifir. If we're lucky, maybe we can convince one of them enough to summon the guards since those assholes laughed me out the door.” There was a flicker of annoyance, but then her brilliant smile followed.
Linsan nestled against Brook and put on the face of a young hopeful. It was scary, but she had seen her mother play the role enough times to remember some of the things. Wide-eyed, she looked around as she clung to Brook.
They got into the short queue for the door. An elderly couple said nothing ahead of them and four women were chatting happily about a sailboat race from a few days ago.
At the door, the guards looked them over. Brook gave her best haughty look, but the guard focused on Linsan. His eyes were piercing as he scanned her over from head to toe, but his gaze settled on her violin case. “No instruments.”
Linsan froze for only a heartbeat but then responded reflexively. “But sir,” she said in the breathless voice she had practiced as a child, “this is my life! I swore to keep it next to my heart the day it was given and I will not let my child escape my fingers until my heart no longer beats in my breast. Please… she's all I have.”
Inside, Linsan cringed. She had meant to alter the line directly from Three Score and Seven Seasons but the “child” slipped in automatically.
The guard's mouth opened to say something.
Panicked, Linsan turned to Brook. “Please, my lady, I beg you. I know we have only this moment together, but don't let them steal this… her from me.” It was a line from a different play, but it meshed together with line from the first one with some alterations.
His eyes softened slightly.
Brook gave him a hard look before turning back to Linsan. She had on the annoyed looked that Linsan remembered so well before both of them had become friends. It was like looking into a painting. Brook spoke in a tense voice, “She not here to play and she knows the consequences from… both of us. I only allowed her to keep the silly thing since I don't want to replace it with one of mine.”
The other guard stood up, a burly man with a cropped black beard. “No exceptions, no instruments.” He shot a glare to the first one.
Brook's jaw tightened.
Linsan felt a urge of panic and clutched her case tighter.
“My lady,” Miska said. “How about I guard your… fling's case while you carouse.” She managed to put in a petty glare to Linsan before she continued.
Brook spun on Miska, her eyes wide.
Miska gave a blank look but there was tension in her shoulders and hands. Linsan couldn't imagine her reasoning, but it was obviously wasn't her first choice.
With a sniff, Brook turned back, looked past the guards before she gestured curtly to the side of the door. “My servant can stand by the entrance. She is clearly not a musician. Have her stand just inside where both you and I can keep an eye on her.”
The second guard looked annoyed and glared at her.
Brook matched his gaze, not even a twitch of her neck or flex from her pursed lips.
The first grunted. “Very well, stay away from the stage and remain by the door. If she leaves our sight or disappears without permission, we'll have her thrown out.”
While Linsan handed her case over to Miska, he continued. “If that case opens, then all three of you will be asked to leave. And she will have to be out of the room during the auction.”
Linsan caught sight of the four women watching the encounter and she blushed. It was the wrong type of attention they wanted. As soon as Miska had her case, she turned back on both friend and her only means of defending herself and stood by Brook.
In the back of her mind, she wanted for the guards to chase her off.
The first one looked her over and then stepped aside.
Brook lead the way into the main hall. It was easily triple the size of the entry hall with even more gold, marble, and silk. On the walls between the columns, she could see pastoral scenes of women playing musical instruments with sculptures filling in the space. Along the back wall, where Miska situated herself, a buffet table filled with finger food had ice sculptures of violins and women playing instruments.
On the opposite end was the stage where musicians were set up on both sides of the stage and a duet played out between them. Linsan strained to hear the words but couldn't over the sounds of conversations. She drew her attention away to look at the others with them, the high society who milled around and gaily chatted with each other.
Everyone was dressed to impress. About a third sat or stood at tables along the two sides of the room but the bulk of them appeared to be happy to walk from clique to clique while greeting each other as long-lost friends or talking to one cluster or the other.
Brook chuckled. “It's just like one of Daddy's parties. Only the jewelry is flashier and there are a lot more like them.”
“And the after-show parties for my mother.” Linsan grinned. “But the jewelry isn't flasher but I'm pretty sure it isn't paste and paint.”
Brook favored her with a smile. “Then we know what to do. Find Xasnal or Dalisan.” She pronounced the “X” as a delicate rasp in the back of her throat. “Then, do our best to convince him that the sale needs to stop and those men need to be invested.”
She gestured back toward Miska with her head. “Miska has the paperwork since this dress doesn't have even a hint of a pocket in it.”
Linsan grinned. She gestured one direction. “Then, if my lady desires, I will trail behind in breathless adoration as we hunt our men.”