Bellis left the tavern through the back entrance, she moved swiftly through the kitchen, her cowl wrapped around her head. Serving maids raised their eyebrows at her passing, the cook noticed as the rear exit swung open and a barrage of course language followed her into the night. A chill wind pulled at her cloak as she stepped into the tight alley. She marched into the town, avoiding the piles of questionable refuse. Her face was flushed red, icy fingers probed her hood and cooled the warmth of her cheeks. The fury rising in her mind bubbled at the edges of her thoughts. She fought her emotions back to keep her steps light and quiet on the cobbled street. The sun had only recently set and the horizon beyond the rows of houses glowed orange, oil lamps hung from houses and added to the glow of the sky.
She hadn’t meant to linger in town after dark, but Simon had assaulted her nerves. Against her better judgment, she’d lingered in the tavern for another two mugs of wine after he had left. A rugged young man who was still on the polite side of merry had offered to keep her company after Simon left her attempting to kill her drink with a gaze. She had mentally dismissed him as he approached but the bashful tint in his offer made her accepted the company. They had struck up a conversation about the local plant life and were busy discussing the multitude of poisonous berries that can be found nearby. When he left to refill their drinks she saw the serving maid with large eyes intercept him, she whispered not so discreetly in his ear. Bellis had decided this was a good time to depart through the back. Simon may not have the most pleasants night, but he would still be breathing in the morning, probably, and a lesson in subtlety might benefit him greatly.

Raised voices echoed down the gloomy street, Bellis darted to the side, pressing herself behind a wooden beam. Sparkling highlights rippled across the slick cobbles as she tentatively poked her head around the post, a steady dribble of murky water fell from the gutters, loudly slapping the street below. Her hand drifted to her belt, settling on the carved wooden handle hidden on her waist. The voices grew closer, she tried to count the pairs of footsteps but they echoed off the brick walls and cobbled street. The noise of falling water added to the difficulty and she abandoned the attempt. She needed to move or hope that the group was unrelated to her departure. She cursed under her breath and broke from cover, sprinting away from the approaching voices and treading as lightly as she could. The group of drunks passed the small alley as a wisp of fabric whip around the far end.

Bellis’s breath was steady, she fell into long elegant strides that helped conserve energy and cover ground rapidly in the forest, it worked even better when she didn’t have to dodge branches and leap boulders. She let a grin spread across her face as the cold air buffeted her face. It was barely past sundown, people would need twice as much drink before they were ready to start forming mobs. She chuckled at her nerves getting the better of her but was glad to be running with the wind, to see the open sky and be away from the smell of stale beer and smoke. A glance at the stars told her she was heading west, she made a quick turn and slowed to a walk. The watchman at the south gate would want an explanation for a lone girl leaving after dark and telling the truth wouldn’t end well. Just your local witch heading back to her hole in the forest. Though the guard’s face might be amusing.

The streets were quiet and she began to hum quietly as she ambled down the main road. Many of the shop fronts still beamed light into the street, scattering orange highlights across the cobbled roads, light rainfall had left everything shimmering in the moisture filled air. If she forced herself to ignore the smells, she might consider it charming in a certain light. Her trips to town were rare, and now she found herself peering into the glowing storefronts. There were shiny baubles arrayed in velvet-lined boxes, chains of precious metals and gems, delicate lace and gaudy fabrics, all enticingly laid out to fuel the desires of those who had money to waste. Fenwood had come up in the world since her last visit, or perhaps she never paid attention. The next window displayed tailored suits, she recognised the style of waistcoat and shirt, worn by Simon, stretched tightly over a manakin. The detail around the cuffs was clumsy, but a degree of effort had been made.

Had the drunken group been seeking Simon? She wondered with a skipped heartbeat. His attitude could certainly rouse a mob without a night of drinks, she scanned her memory but couldn’t recall where Simon was staying, if he even mentioned where. He could handle a few thugs drawn on by liquid courage, but he would likely be asleep, and too arrogant to think he’d be in any danger. Worry began to creep into her mind, she weighed her options; Backtrack and try to follow the group, if she could even find them. Head back to the tavern, and do what? Run through the street shouting his name! She sighed, Arrogant, that’s how he described me, well the pendulum swings both ways. She thought and twisted sharply towards the south gate.

Chapter 2: Reprimand