Title: Being Valter
Chapter: A man who needs a heart
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
She was furious but it didn’t stop her from turning and going straight home. She hadn’t gotten this far on her own without being cautious. She knew how to act cowed by people, it was better to take a little embarrassment than have everything she’d worked on taken away from her. It didn’t mean she liked it. In fact she’d like nothing better than to march up to that mountain of muscle and – and – well, she couldn’t do anything to him.
Fia slumped against the door in her small, cramped apartment and slid the bar over the door. With a heavy sigh she began pulling off her kitchen clothes and hung them on a peg where they could dry and be washed later. She washed up in a basin of water she’d brought up last night and changed into a well worn dress; it was frayed on the hem and at the cuffs and the style was old but it fit her better than her maid’s uniform. Carefully Fia shook out the skirts, a fine covering of magic dust fell away; grimacing, Fia knew she’d need to sweep before she left tomorrow, she couldn’t take any chance of someone finding it in here.
Leaving her room she locked it behind her and went out the back door to the building where she rented her small room. It was late afternoon and people were bustling this way and that, finishing things before going home to families. She’d wasted much of her precious time. Sour, Fia pulled the long wheat colored braid of hair over her shoulder and turned down a foreboding alley. She was a daily traveler of these dark streets; were she not she might find herself in trouble, but the street toughs let her pass and avoided looking at her. The closer she got to the shady areas of town the more people stepped out of her way and made a point in not being where she was.
She stopped outside of a set of shallow steps going down to a door below street level. Several colored lanterns hung around it and paint that had once marked the door brightly was now dull and chipping away. Fia knocked in a triple rhythm and then slid inside the door, closing it behind her.
Inside the apartment was hazy with burning incense. There were pillows and rugs spread on the floor and in the middle of the common room on the right was a low, squat table. To her left was a small kitchen, partitioned off with a half wall. An old, foreign woman turned and looked at her; she merely grunted and went back to what she was doing.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Fia murmured and went to stand beside the old woman.
Fia did as she was told, slicing vegetables for a stew and combined the ingredients in a pot and put it over a fire in the hearth. The old woman had moved on to slicing up other things and crushing bits together on a separate stretch of the kitchen. From this vantage point she could stand in the kitchen and gaze out over the rest of the room, as if it were her kingdom; and for all intents and purposes it could be that these set of rooms were her kingdom. Mommy Fortuna was a woman who set her own laws and rarely went outside of her domain. People only came looking for her because they knew of her skills and were willing to do what was necessary.
Most of the time Fortuna supplied healing remedies, foul smelling concoctions that applied to the body and healed quickly. It was only the wise who realized the reason her potions and salves worked so well was because they were infused with magic; that medium reserved for only those highly educated.
“Why you late?”
“Some strange things happened in the palace today,” Fia leaned her elbows on the counter. Her feet hurt terribly, but she wanted to watch Fortuna at work. She learned so little each day it was maddening, but she knew she had to take it slow. “The Royals are being strange and then they weren’t going to let me out of the palace and then I had to get away from this street tough hanging around the palace. I didn’t mean to be late, honest.”
Fortuna smiled and held out a piece of something Fia didn’t recognize. Wary but obedient, she opened her mouth and let the old woman put it in her mouth.
“It good. Chew!”
It was tasteless at first, but then seemed to melt in her mouth into a sort of mushy, liquid warmth. “Mmm, what is it?”
“I no have word for it. It help you open mind though. I need you help me tonight. Man with no heart come in. He need heart. I need your help.”
Sometimes Fia didn’t understand a single thing Fortuna wanted her to do; tonight looked like it would be one of those nights.