The road was full of mid-day bustle when the cart pulled up to a quaint shop in the southern quadrant of the city marketplace. Through the windows of the shop one could see beautiful suits and gowns of varying style and color, and a clientele primarily made up of dragonians eyeing the apparel and having it fitted. As the cart rattled to a halt, Jannette hurried out the front door with a broad smile on her face.
“Oh thank you so much for bringing the shipment! My original stock just flew off the shelves and everyone has been begging for more.” She was almost bouncing with joy.
“I should be thanking you,” said the woman who had been driving the cart. “It’s very generous of you to hold onto my order for my friends.” The woman leapt down and went to the back of the cart to grab the trunks with the help of two men who were with her.
Jannette opened one of the unadorned trunks and peered in. “Ah, these must be yours. Those stones are just lovely, but are you sure you want such a plain setting? It seems like a waste of his talents.”
The woman smiled sweetly at her. “I’m sure. These are exactly the way I ordered them, and I’m sure my friends will love them the way they are.”
Jannette shrugged and let the men haul the trunks into the shop. “I’ll be sure that they receive them. Do you have a list of names or-”
“Oh, they’ll just tell you they’re here to pick up from the bulk order. I trust them not to take more than they should,” the woman replied quickly with a wink to Jannette.
Jannette gave a small “ah” and nodded as if she knew exactly what the woman meant, then waved the group farewell once they’d all clambered back into the cart and rolled away.
“Well she certainly didn’t seem to recognize you,” Kate said to Jack when they had gotten a few blocks away from the marketplace.
“To be fair, I don’t think she ever got a proper look at me to begin with,” Jack replied. He ran his hand across his hair, feeling the bristle of the strands that were now only about an inch long.
The other man, named Harris, nudged him and said, “Don’t knock the power of a shave and a haircut, mate. Does wonders.”
Jack contemplated this the rest of the way to their flat. He also wondered once again if he had made a mistake in joining this venture. It was a thought that came up while he had been setting the lightly-tinted stones for the necklaces; and when Kate and her friend had come to collect them; and when they sat him down and chopped off his hair; and after when he saw in the mirror a face that was no longer recognizable to him. That was when he realized how much of the damage from his prison sentence had been hidden away by the fluff. Deep scars pock-marked his cheeks, and a long stip of hair was replaced by scar tissue close to the back of his ear. He imagined that there was probably another scar on his chin, but the goatee his sudden barbers had left behind concealed that final mystery.
Now he was standing in a flat in an area of town in which he had never dreamed to live, but had visited frequently in the dead of night, while under the protection of people who should not have a care in the world, but were planning to topple the ruling class.
“You live comfortably,” Jack commented while he looked around.
Harris pointed a finger at Jack. “For now. But it’s only a matter of time before the other boot drops. How long before the nagas decide we’re not worth keeping around? How much longer can we live in their shadow, unable to rise from the ranks of the lower and lower-middle class?”
Jack listened in silence. He had heard similar rantings from men on street corners who had lost everything to the government and had nothing left to live for. This well-dressed young man did not seem to have the same situation in the slightest, but somehow had the same fervor.
“And then there’s you. You are a prime example of why we need this revolution,” Harris was saying at the crescendo of his speech.
“Woah. No.” Jack held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t make me the martyr for your cause. What I did was an idiotic mistake, not something to rally behind.”
“No, Jack.” Now Kate was speaking with the same fire in her eyes. “By all rights you should be the one taking the throne. It’s your son who will be first in line for the crown when his time comes.”
“By all rights, I should be dead,” Jack retorted. “But the guard wasn’t feeling generous. A child out of wedlock does not make me a king. It makes me a fool.”
“Then why are you here?” Harris asked with an intense stare.
Jack’s words were caught in his throat. In his pocket, his hand gripped the medallion tightly. “My reasons are my own,” he decided to say. “Don’t make them part of your political agenda.”
Harris crossed his arms.
Kate interjected, “As long as the end result is in our favor, we have no right to complain.” She shot Harris a look with the end of that statement. Then she turned back to Jack. “We really are thankful for your help so far, and whatever you’re willing to give going forward. All things considered.” She didn’t mention the botched recruitment attempt, but Jack could see the implication in her expression.
The tension in the room did not die down even through the quaint dinner that Kate prepared, so Jack made his escape up to the roof of the building. The sun had set, leaving Jack with only the chill night air and his thoughts for company. Below he could hear the scuffle of the “lower middle class” as Harris had put it. He couldn’t relate to that man’s reasoning; to Jack everyone in the city was upper class compared to him.
A gust of wind hit him from behind, accompanied by the quiet sound of footsteps on the clay tile.
“Olmos’ din’ recognize ya,” came a familiar voice.
Jack turned his head. “Evening, Fred. Out working?”
Fred sat gently on the roof next to his friend and nodded. “Ah woz. Den ah saw dis poor sap si’in on a roof an’ though’ ah’d take a look.”
“Wot ya doin’ out ‘ere any’ow? Ah though’ you wuh ‘avin a life out in da country.”
“I was,” Jack said. “Now I’m part of this revolution I guess.”
“Well ‘at’s qui’ a turn,” Fred mused. “Wud di’ Caffy say ‘bou’ i’?”
“I barely made it out with my life. She was threatening half the country before I finished getting the words out of my mouth.” Jack lied back onto the tiled roof.
Fred shook his head. “Surprised. Ou’ ov e’ry’un she’d be de mos’ likely ta join a rebellion.”
Jack turned to his friend. “I know she’s been bitter toward the nagas, but do you really think she’s the ‘over throw the government’ sort?”
“Ya don’ ‘ear wot she says wen she finks no’un’s aroun’.” The big man winked at the smaller one.
“You scoundrel,” Jack said with a smirk.
Fred smiled back. “Well, ah oghta ge’ on mah way. Lo’s uh business ta atten’ ta. See ya la’uh.” With that, Fred stretched his expanse of wings, and with a great downward push, was off into the night air high above the city.
“Yeah,” said Jack. “I’m sure I will.”