All the jems in the world flow away as embers from a fire when spent by one dancing on the edge of wealth and poverty. A poor man lives beyond his means while the rich man strives to live poorly.
— Jamis da Martin ne Golid
It was early evening and the Crafters’s District was empty except for the few crafters packing up and heading home. The setting sun painted dark clouds above her with swirls of orange, blues, and purples. The stalls and wagons were already empty, they were gone within minutes of the evening bell, but a few stores still had lights on inside as their owners finished their books or stocking the shelves.
Lily walked alone, lugging a large, stiff-sided bag that contained fabric panels that needed to be sewn before the morning. She needed two hands to hold the handles otherwise it hurt her wrists. Her normal bag—with only empty lunch dishes and her essentials—bounced against the small of her back. The strap rested uncomfortably around her throat. The pressure made it only slightly difficult to breathe but she couldn’t manage a way of holding both bags without discomfort.
She glanced enviously at the carriages waiting in front of the stores. If she wasn’t aware of her own finances, she would have considered getting one. She didn’t have the funds to get one herself, which meant an uncomfortable two mile walk. It also meant two miles of being lost in her thoughts.
It didn’t take long before she was thinking about Nirih’s dress. She was confident that the waist design was set, she just couldn’t figure out an appropriate top. It was frustrating, to say the least. She could feel the patterns in her head but it refused to focus no matter how hard she tried. Every time she thought she had it, Juliet’s reproachful tones blew away the pattern.
The puzzle kept her occupied for almost half a mile. A brief interruption of waiting for a gap between a pair of ladies riding horses drew her thoughts to a much different topic: Mindil.
When Lily continued along her route, the touch of Mindil’s soft skin and the little moans echoed endlessly in Lily’s head. She was far more forward that Lily had ever encountered before. She couldn’t tell if Mindil was teasing her, hinting at Lily’s actions with her husband, or something else.
A day ago, Lily would have never considered being intimate with a woman but Mindil had put a little insect in her thoughts and it was worming deeper. Lily found herself wondering what it would feel like to kiss Mindil’s painted lips or to let her fingers travel further down past the collar.
Lily’s face grew flush. She pretended it was because of the uncomfortable bag pinching her fingers but the tingling between her legs belied out the deception.
She switched her bags to their opposite sides and focused enough on her trip to pass a mechanical road. Most of the paths in the city were for pedestrians and horses but every few of them allowed the newly introduced machines to roll past as they blew perfumed steam into the air.
It was loud near the road and she made a face. She couldn’t wait until the fad of mechanical cars faded. She waited for the traffic guard to stop traffic before hurrying across the cobblestone intersection. She kept her eyes down looking for puddle of oil, a slip would ruin not only the dresses in her bag but the one she wore.
Once past the intersection, she shifted her bags again and let her mind drift.
Mindil and her husband had a lot in common. They were both intense, though Hasan’s obsession felt like him pressing tightly against Lily’s back while Mindil lured her in. There was no question what he wanted. Even with the recent visit from Mindil, Lily could feel the hunger for Hasan’s kisses rising up to burn through her thoughts.
It didn’t stop her musings to drift to the soft touch of Mindil’s lips against her fingertips.
Lily was halfway home when the first droplets of rain splashed on her cheek.
With a gasp, she clutched her bag protectively and looked up.
The clouds were darker since she started. Flashes of lightning coursed along the bottom edges. More rain splashed down. Around her, she heard the faint hiss as it fell steadily.
“No, no, not now,” she muttered as she looked around for shelter. Her route had taken her down a cobblestone road with sidewalks on both sides. There were glass-fronted stores with apartments above them. A number of the top windows were lit but there was only darkness among the ground level.
More rain splashed on her face and soaked into her hair. Cool pricks caressed her shoulders when the fabric of her dress did nothing to stop the water.
Lily clutched her large bag to her chest as she looked for some place she could find shelter. When she couldn’t, she headed for the first stoop that looked deep enough to avoid the worst of the weather. It was a cheap milliner with dozens of feathered hats behind the glass windows.
She stepped up on the step and set her large bag carefully against the door. It was the furthest away from the rain but she wasn’t sure it would be enough. Turning around, she unhooked her lunch sack from her neck and carefully nestled it into the top of the dress bag; it would catch any splashes that could ruin the fabric.
Turning around, she regarded the street. The clouds had opened up and sheets of water poured down on the street. It was only a few seconds before the stones were dark and rivers of water raced between the cracks. Papers and wrappers floated past along the gutters, traveling sedately toward the sewers.
Lily sighed. She should have ordered a carriage. It was expensive and slow, but then she wouldn’t be trapped on some store’s stoop with a bag filled with her livelihood.
The smell of the fresh rain blew over it. It reminded her of Kendrick. The water mage always had the same scent surrounding him. She closed her eyes for a moment and pretended he was standing next to her, his muscular body reaching out for her.
Heat rose inside her, pushing back the coolness of the rain and the frustration of being trapped. She let her eyes droop close as she sank herself into the idle fantasies of Kendrick while waiting for the rain to subside.