Jack was occupying his usual stool at the pub, staring into a tankard of ale. The familiar drone of conversation and merriment wrapped around him like an old blanket: frayed and unable to keep him warm, but a comport none-the-less. Trevor, the bartender, walked over and asked Jack if he was okay. Jack just nodded and continued to stare into his drink. Trevor shrugged and walked back to the livelier customers.
Jack considered just paying his tab and heading home, when the door to the pub opened and many of the customers fell quiet. He didn’t turn to look. If it involved him, it’d come to him. Recently, though, not a whole lot around town involved him. His luck at the gambling houses was down, he had no leads for a good heist, and with the gypsies coming through town he couldn’t out swindle the snake oil salesmen. Maybe it was time to give up and take an apprenticeship in something useful…
A woman sat next to him at the bar and ordered an ale. Travis ignored her and focused on the customers at the far end of the bar. Slowly the crowd went back to their conversations, completely ignoring the woman. Jack slid his tankard to her. “You can have mine. I’m not drinking it anyway.”
“Thank you,” the woman responded. Her accent was crisp and precise. Jack looked down to see a long snake tail wrapped down around the bar stool. The naga woman was tapping one leg of the stool nervously. This must have been her first time perusing the slums. Jack’s eyes followed the tail up to the long, plain dress, then along the curve of her backside around to her full breasts, finally settling on her pleasant face, still shining even with the expression of confusion and concern. She tilted and swirled the contents of the tankard, staring very intensely into the liquid.
“It’s not poisoned,” Jack said.
The woman jumped slightly and looked up at Jack with a reddening cheeks. “I don’t think that. I was just-“
“It’s fine.” Jack smiled reassuringly. “Here,” he said, then lifted the tankard and took a small swig before setting it back on the bar, “now we’ll both die.” He winked.
The woman chuckled and said, “What a gentleman,” before taking a swig herself. She made a face when she put the mug down.
“Yeah, it’s awful.” Jack said.
The woman swallowed the liquid and said, “I didn’t want to say anything.”
The two laughed. The woman’s eyes glittered with an inner light that Jack took a long notice of.
“So what’s your name?” Jack asked.
The woman smiled at him and said, “Nadine.”
The woman looked up from her cup of chocolate at an older naga woman who was smiling gently at her. She had been daydreaming again. “Sorry, Mother. What were you saying?”
Queen Sathira settled into her chair and gave a small sigh. “I was saying that you should really consider contacting Prince Ajit. Out of the suitors so far, he seems to be the only one with a good head on his shoulders.”
Nadine shook her head and said, “Ajit doesn’t have any heart through. He wants the throne, not me or my baby.”
Sathira reached over and placed a hand on her daughter’s arm. “that is the way it is, dear. And when it comes to the baby…” she looked across the room at the bassinette. “Do you blame them? It’s unprecedented to have a baby like…yours…in the palace.” She took a deep breath and let it out very slowly.
Nadine was also looking at the bassinet. “I know, but he is still my baby.” She looked back down into her cup. “Thank you…for letting me keep him.”
Sathira gave her a tired smile. The two finished their chocolate and Sathira excused herself to check on the king. Nadine sat in the silence her mother left behind for a moment before upset sounds came from the bassinet. The princess moved across the room and gathered her baby into her arms. She pulled back her top and began feeding him as she moved to a chair by the window. Before her the city stretched off into the distance, dropping off down the incline of the hill. Beyond spread the farmland and forests.
“My dear Kavi,” she cooed to the baby, “We will never find you a proper father.” She turned her palm up and looked at the scar that stretched across the soft flesh. “No man seems to care about us.”