The unreality of the goan board is that the players can see every move being made.
— Tobias Silverman
Lily sat on a stool and stared at Nirih's dress. After she came back from lunch, she had hopes of finishing at least the foundation of the outfit, but for the last few hours, she had been staring at the fabric but not seeing anything but Hasan and Mindil.
Guilt filled her, a violent twisting in her stomach that sent ripples of tension along her back and arms. Mindil had no idea that Hasan wanted Lily. The cheerful blonde had only kind words for Lily, with no mention of kudame. There was a grace in how she danced around the topic, not even hinting that Lily was anything but a good friend.
Through the meal, Hasan never stopped staring at Lily or pressing his thigh against her. Between talking to Mindil and eating, Lily kept thinking about having a dinner alone with Hasan. She could barely control herself in the carriage when he kissed her, how could she do the same over dinner? The heat and lust filtered through the guilt, driving the sharp edge of despair further into her heart.
She reached out for the bottle of blush wine but only held the stem. It was from before lunch and had suffocated from being left out too long. She almost picked it up, but then rested her knuckles against the warm glass as she tried to find the words to tell Hasan that it wasn't going to work.
Someone tapped on the door. It was Nondei, so she ignored it. The tapping grew louder as someone steadily rapped against the door. It was almost the beat of a clock, precise and rhythmic.
Dejected with her own thoughts, Lily released the glass and stood up. Her bare feet scuffed against the wooden floor as she strolled through the door into the store front.
She didn't see anything until she reached the door. Then she realized there was a single man standing at the entrance, his black suit shadowed by the first oranges of a sunset. He wore a Martin crest on his chest and a silver bracelet danced on his left wrist.
Images of Kendrick running flashed through her mind. She didn't know if the man in front of her was one of them that Kendrick splashed with blood and wine, but she couldn't let him stand out the door. Despite her fear, it was impolite.
Heart beating faster, she pulled open the door. “Yes?”
“Excuse me, Dame Kasin, could I take a few minutes of your time?” It was already obvious that he didn't know if she was bedame, tadame, or kudame. She was simply a dame to the stranger. For a heartbeat, she wondered if he knew and chose to use the generic term.
Lily nodded and stepped back, holding the door open.
The man, who had gray hair, bowed his head and stepped inside. He looked tense as he glanced at the dresses pinned to the walls and the books of designs scattered on the small tables.
“May I help you, Tasire Martin?”
He turned to her and bowed again, one hand on his side where a sword would have been sheathed. “Please forgive me. I am Relik da Martin ne Golid.” The Martin families owned the next coastal town to the east, but the Golids were from the south, away from the ocean.
“I am… Kudame Lily dea Kasin, the proprietress of this store. How may I help you, tasire?”
He held his hands in front of him and bowed again, a trickle of sweat beating on his forehead. “Please forgive me for this, but members of my other family suggested that you may be aware of a Kasin who goes by the name of Kendrick.”
Despite his nervous attitude, she could see a hardness in his eyes.
Lily's stomach clenched. She considered lying, but she knew it wouldn't help. She nodded once.
“Are you friends with Besire Kendrick?” asked the older man.
A number of answers flashed through her mind. She didn't know what the Martins wanted, but their plans weren't friendly. She decided to adopt an attitude that may reveal their plans to her. Drawing up, she imitated her mother's furious posture. “He burned down my mother's house and managed to ruin everything for me, including sending me on a path that led to becoming a kudame.”
The bitterness in her voice didn't need to be acted out. She just had to remember the feeling when she was standing outside the old Manor Rose watching it burn. It was Kendrick and Hasan's fighting over her that had started the fire. No, it was Hasan's fault after he summoned mercenaries after he lost the duel. The fire came from the melee.
Relik's eyes widened and then he smiled. He had one bright white tooth against his others. “Ah, then you are no friend?”
“I would happily see that man run out of the city.”
“We could arrange that. You see, we are looking for him. Vigorously, you might say.”
Lily glanced around her store. She noticed an unopened bottle of wine, a burgundy for common customers. Reaching out for it, she held it up to him.
“No, but thank you. I found that wine dulls the hunt.”
His response threw her for a heartbeat. Lily swirled the bottle in her hand. “May I ask why you are looking for Kendrick?”
Relik looked to the side for a moment and then sighed. “Besire Kendrick was in a poor place for the last few years. In exchange for… spiriting him back into town, he agreed to some tasks that we needed performed with a modicum of grace and subtly.”
Relik's bushy eyebrow lifted. “He told you?”
“No, his rival told me.”
“Ah, Tasire Hasan? An honorable man.”
A cold sweat prickled along Lily's skin. “You seem to know a lot about me.”
“As I mentioned, we are vigorously looking for the besire. And he appears to have some interest in you. We were curious of the connection.” At least he had the decency to look apologetic. “Please, it is important we find him, bedame.”
She gulped at her dry throat. “Are you going to kill him?”
Relik held up his hand. “By the Divine Couple, no. One does not attack potential allies.”
“Then why was your family armed in the city? I saw you chasing him in front of my store.”
“The besire is…” Relik sighed and kept his hands up. He continued, “… just as vigorously trying to avoid his end of the bargain once he knew the full details.”
Lily set down the bottle and looked out the window. She half expected to see Kendrick or more of the Martin family waiting for her, but the street was empty. She caught a hint of movement and looked across the cobblestones where two long shadows of people were cast down the street. They were armed judging from the shadows, no doubt more Martins.
She turned back to her guest. “He won't do anything illegal for you.”
A faint smile and a barely perceptible nod. “No, we want nothing illegal. The tasks were just more… common than he had hoped.”
Lily wasn't sure what she wanted. She could easily dredge up anger toward Kendrick, both what he did to ruin her life but also splashing wine everywhere. He was erratic and destructive. At the same time, she remembered how alluring he was. After a second, she cleared her throat. “I'll try… I'll try to help.”
“Thank you, that is the only thing I can request.”
“What do you need me to do?” She felt sick to her stomach as she asked.
“Just tell us when the besire approaches you, be it here or at your home. If possible, send us a note and keep him present.”
She gasped. “My home? He's there?”
“Yes, didn't you know? He called on you earlier today, but you were here at the store.”
“And you didn't catch him?”
“He is very elusive, much like his talents for manipulating water.”
“He is fickle.”
“Mercurial, one might say,” Relik said with a chuckle.
Lily nodded and ran her finger on the last glass remaining. “Yes.”
It came out more wistful than she intended. She blushed and looked up, but Relik didn't seem to notice.
He bowed to her, a deep one of respect. “Family Martin thanks you. We will treat your assistance with the respect it deserves.”
She could only nod in response.
He let himself out and quickly walked down the street. The shadows cast along the cobblestones showed the two other men turning and following after him. It didn't take long for their shadows to pass out of sight.
Lily leaned against the bottle before opening it. She felt guilty for hating Kendrick, almost as much as she did for her actions with Hasan. Whatever the Martins wanted, she knew that Kendrick would suffer. Despite all of her remembered anger for the man, she couldn't help but also fear for him.
With a sigh, she poured herself a glass of wine. “What have you promised, Kendrick?”