Mistress White/ Cheapside Ch.1

Mistress White went to sleep and found a husband, a prince.
Mistress Bell lived with a beast and found a friend and later a husband.

All the tales end with the girl finding someone to love.
Even the one about the princess turned beggar ends with a prince marrying her.

My story does not. I was never a princess or a lady. I have not had the beasts turn into princes or kisses break the curse I live under.

I live in cheap side, a half breed, not belonging to the fairy courts or the human aristocrats. My mother died having me and my human father abandoned me after one glance at my skin.

It is rare for a child to be born with the marks. Normally a half breed has green hair or metallic eyes, instead I was born with milky white skin that looks like someone went crazy with printers ink, swirls of black march along my arms, legs, and body.

I lived on the streets scrounging for food and luck till I found Tansy’s. Or I should say she found me. Fairies live off luck, light, and laughter and there is little of any in the slums. Demons or Dark Fey live off darkness, pain, and fear. There are a lot of dark fey roaming cheap sides at night.

 

I live in a small house with a handful of other half breeds and dark fey now. Living with dark fey you learn to appreciate the small things, like the days you are not scrubbing dirt and blood off the floor or when everyone manages to scrounge enough for everyone to get a bite of some kind of meat with dinner.

Tansy runs the boarding house, a light half blood herself; she took me in when I was three. She calls the house a boarding house but in truth Tansy is a whore. Many of the girls who live here are and our home is known as a half blood whore house. Not everyone who stays here is a whore, I’m not. I scrounge rags and lost things to sell to the rag pickers and such. I am trying to find someone to take me on as an apprentice but my magic is unpredictable most days. Most take one look at me and say I will never be more then a hearth fey and to get someone to teach me that.

Hearth fey work as housekeepers and cooks in tavern and for the wealthy households if they have enough magic. No Nob or tavern owner is going to hire a fey who lives in Cheapside and I am too small and plain looking to work the taverns in Cheapside where most of the servers double as whores. The good ones learn to use their magic to enhance their cooking, cleaning, and working as a hostess. Tansy had learned to do some of these spells and had taught me what she was able to.

The others know I was spell hungry and would share about any new spell they heard about or learned. The rituals and words used in most spells would not work for me but if I worked at it enough I could adapt the spell into something I could use. It took me weeks to adapt a spell but once I learned it I could often cast them faster and better then the other fey I knew.

Several of Tansy’s favorites were palace guardsmen who had been coming to Tansy for years. I had grown up with them and a few would bring me small treats when they came to see Tansy. I had heard others scoff at Tansy’s soldiers but it meant that our home was almost never broken into and the other whores were not abused by their customers unless they wanted to be arrested on various charges later in the week. Word got out that Tansy’s was a safe place to work and many mistreated fey had shown up at the door faces covered in bruises seeking a safe place to heal. Tansy would take them in no matter the reason as long as they were not wanted by the guards or had broken a law.

The dark fey whores lived off the small pain and fear they caused each night to their customers. Some of them delighted in making me clean their rooms which always smell of blood and sex.

 

Nights in Cheapside were when most of the business was done. As twilight deepened, the shabbiness and dirt of the streets and buildings were hidden in shadows and street lights. Most of the fey used their magic in business, from causing a mark to trip and allow their pocket to be picked, to tricks of light and sound that drew the eye and enhanced how the merchandise looked. Painted ladies leaned out of windows accented by butterflies made of jewel colored lights. Food and goods vendors had dancing illusions of their wares pulse and glow, floating around and above their stalls. The cloth and clothing seller had ribbons dancing along to a jaunty pipe tune played by a near by street musician. The whore houses were full of light and motion as were the taverns and bars.

The colors and lights danced and strove to distract the uneducated from the pain and muck that hid below. Just below the glitter and spark of spells was the fact that everything was for sell in Cheapside if you could manage the price and knew where to look.
The downs of Cheapside sat well away from the glittering lights, down dark alleyways and steep cobbled and mud streets. This was where those went who wanted something darker then the light and glitter could offer went. Here were stalls hid in the shadows that sold spells and potions that addicted or services that lead to death and violence. Vendors sold black market plants and potions that could do anything you wanted. Here were the dark fey and spell casters who would curse your enemy or kill your kin for a price. This was where the assassin’s guild operated from and the mercenaries guild could be contacted for jobs this side of legal.
The monarchy left Cheapside alone for the most part only engaging in the occasional raid when someone of importance was found dead or some Nob had been robbed that had the king’s ear.

I was determined to get out of this pit of mud however I could, but I was light fey for all my living in Cheapside and I could not make myself climb over the bodies of others to do it. I knew of several thieves who got good enough to start working for the King and his guard but it did not happen often, and they were all men. The one woman I knew who had managed to get out had done so by marrying a rich merchant and moving across the sea with him. I had no guarantee that across the sea would not mean being in another Cheapside called by a different name.

I was walking the downs tonight on my way to a lesson. Jarl, a drunk and failed mage who lived down there had been giving me lessons in spells for the last few months. Tonight he sat hunched beneath a street light his face emaciated and rough with a beard several days old. The yellow lamp light turned his skin a harsh yellow with dark streaks of shadow. He reeked of alcohol and stronger things, but he always did. I stood in front of him waiting for him to look up and notice me. When he did I could see just how blown his pupils were. I would not be getting much of a lesson out of him tonight.

“Jarl.” I said with a sigh. “Are you up to a lesson or should I come back tomorrow?”

Scrubbing a hand along his face he heaved himself vertical, weaving for a moment. Straightening up he gripped the lamp pole with one long fingered hand before facing me with a belch.

“No, come on. I thought of something to show you.” he said, gesturing me back toward the hovel at his back.

He meandered and almost fell several times but managed to make his way to the door and the bench by the table. He knew I would offer no help. If he could not stand and walk on his own I would not take a lesson that day and he would not get paid.

The room at least showed his trade even if Jarl himself had lost the look of a mage years ago from drink and abuse. The table was solid and heavy wood that was heavily scarred and stained from use. The basics for most rituals and spells sat in bowls and jars on every surface except for right at the bench leaving a work space to cast in.

Jarl was human and had no fey blood. It was rare but sometimes a human would be born with the power to work magic. The ways they used were very different from fey magic. Humans used tools, herbs, and drawings to fuel the spells. Fey used words and gestures. I could use a little of both and was learning how to combine the two disciplines a little at a time.

 

***

 

It was Tansy’s off day and we were folding the laundry that had dried in the back garden.

“You need a skill child, a plan. Hoping that magic will get you out of cheap side is not going to do it. Where do you want to end up?”

“I don’t know, just out of Cheapside.” I said picking up the next shirt to fold.

“Then you are going to be trying to get out of Cheapside for the rest of your life.” Tansy said with a huff. She gestured and a bed sheet folded itself into a neat square. Turning she pulled the next one out and gestured for me to take the other end. She needed to do something with her hands while her mind worked on a problem. “I have a few friends who live near dockside and others who live near the palace or even on Hill Row. I can send a few letters and get them to let you follow them around a bit. Let you see what there is to see of the town and how you might want to work.”

“Really? That would be great.” I said taking the sheet and putting it in the basket of folded linens. I frowned and reached to help fold another sheet. “They really would let me on Hill Row?”

“Not in the homes themselves but on the grounds and in the kitchens or stables perhaps.” She said with a sigh, “But you must be careful when you go. Many of the full bloods take offense at even the presence of a half blood. I don’t want you hurt just because you wanted to see something.” she said sternly.

“I’ll be careful, I swear it.” I said raising one hand like I was swearing an oath on my magic, a weak spark of magic sputtered from my fingertips for a moment before dying. Tansy laughed at that.

“I can see just how much you mean that, but I do ask that you be polite to everyone you talk to and wear your best clothes the first day at least. After that you can see what duties they will have you doing and you can dress as they do.”

“Bless, Tansy.” I said excitedly and began folding with a vengeance making Tansy laugh all the more.

 

***

 

My last lesson with Jarl had been interesting if not really useful. I could not see a way that burning chicken livers and making a smelly paste out of the result would ever make me harder to locate but Jarl had demonstrated by sitting in a corner and seeming to blend into the wood. I argued that the reek of burnt livers would alert anyone to the fact that someone was there but he would not listen. If I wanted to go unnoticed I would have to find a different way to do it. I was nervous about heading to the Hill and wanted a way out of trouble if I needed it. So far it looked like I was on my own.

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