The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 2 (or, "The Foreign Girl")
"Where you are, what this is, who I am?" Calimero bit the inside of his mouth. This wasn't somebody who could be trusted with the materials in the back of his booth. "Why do you ask such questions?"
"Because I want to know the answer." She was curt, to the point. Calimero figured he was dealing with a member of the secret police, sent by the Queen herself to weed out the magic dealers. No way she was going to get into his booth.
"Well, miss," he began, trying to change his demeanor and welcome her to the front of the booth (but not the back), "my name is Calimero, and I sell potions. Not magical potions, mind you. I sell potions that will help you with everyday life. I learned how from my mother, who sold the same potions in Spain." That was mostly true, though left out the parts about Master Rossini. "If there's something that you are particularly interested in, please let me know."
"Okay." Calimero didn't know the meaning of her response - what kind of a word was that? - but he didn't ask any questions. Too much on his mind, and besides, she wasn't asking any more questions about the booth. Maybe she'd get tired of it and move on, maybe talk to Luka and her wares.
"Why are you wearing those goggles?"
The sudden question made him jump. He almost asked the girl, 'why are you wearing pigtails? Do you want to be arrested?' But he restrained himself the best he could. "I have to, in the lab. I make all of these potions myself."
"I don't believe that for a moment." Calimero bit his lip again, concerned that she would think he conjured up all of these potions by magic - which he had - but the she spoke again. "These look...too nice, too polished for you to have made them all by hand. They're really good." She looked up, and her green eyes met his. "Or, at least, I think they look good. I actually haven't tried one of them yet."
Calimero rarely did this, but he somehow wanted to prove to her that he was the real deal. "Would you like to try one? On the house." He opened one of the pink elixirs, which were small enough and cheap enough that he could offer her one of them. It would only be three bits he would lose on one bottle, and he could always clean and refill the bottle as well.
She eyed it, cautious. "Are you sure this is safe?"
She gulped, muttered something in a language Calimero couldn't identify, then drank the entire bottle in one go. Calimero's eyes widened. How would she be able to note all of the drink's tastes if she swallowed it that easily?
She put the glass down, closed her eyes, and stood still for a moment. When her eyes finally opened, Calimero noticed that there was some sort of melancholy to them. "It reminds me of home," she said. "I haven't been home in a long time."
Calimero could identify. "Where are you from?"
She looked nervous, as if she wasn't sure how to tell Calimero, then nodded. "From the East. From Russki. Moscow."
"Ahh." Calimero had heard tales of the great North, its expansive tundras, snow upon snow upon snow. This would explain why she dressed so strange, and why her hair was in pigtails. "Are you new to Fiorazzurro?"
Another confused look, and then the girl nodded.
"Can I make a suggestion? You should take your hair out of that hairstyle. It's illegal to have it like that. You can tie it up, but it has to be pinned."
"Oh. Okay." And with that, the girl pulled both of her pigtails out and shook her hair, slight kinks working themselves out. She twisted the ties around her left wrist. "Is this accepting?"
If he had been nervous before, Calimero was outright flabbergasted now. "Uh..."
"Never mind. The point is, your drink is good." She put the empty bottle back on the table and looked as if she was about to walk to another stall Calimero had to make her stay somehow.
"You said that the potion reminded you of home. Do you care to talk about it?"
Her look was skeptical. "Home or the drink?"
"Home. I know everything about the drink." Calimero motioned to a stool next to him. "Come on. Sit down for a while. You look like you could use it."
She was apprehensive for a moment, and then she sat down. She told him about her village outside of the city, and growing up in Russia, its ups and downs. Calimero had a feeling she was leaving something pretty big out - she was dodging certain parts - but he enjoyed hearing about her mother's cooking and the stray dog that she played with.
"What's your name?" he finally asked, curious to know more about this girl who had happened on his booth. She was really something, and not that much different in age than him. She looked a bit younger, but she had confirmed that she was 14.
Now she blushed. "I-I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you that part," she said.
"Not supposed to tell?"
"Yeah." She looked at her feet. "I need to find my friends. I shouldn't have stayed here as long as I have. I'm sorry."
Shite. She was leaving. "No. Don't. I have to at least get your name first."
She had moved a lot quicker than Calimero had anticipated; she looked back from in front of the table. "If you insist, call me Milaya." And then she was gone, in between the crowds, lost to the waves of people passing through.
Calimero let go of his breath. Milaya. He needed to chase her down, to make her stay a little bit longer, but what could he do? If he left the booth, anybody could walk in, take whatever they wanted, even call the Queen's special force if they found his potions in the back. Calimero's hands were tied.
He grabbed one of the pink drinks and, uncapping it, downed it as quickly as Milaya had. If today was going to be this interesting, he would need all the help he could get to make his dreams come true.
He felt the potion hit his stomach, and then he felt the lightheaded rush that meant the magic was working. True to form, Calimero had included a small dose of dopathetamine in his sleep potions, as a way to inspire its drinkers to really make their dreams come true. Now Milaya was all he could think about, and he had this awful feeling that she would be gone to him forever if he didn't get up from the booth that very instant and go to find her.
He was debating this - and how the potion had tasted slightly of cupcakes - when he heard a scream from across the way.
He got up and hurdled over his table, not wasting any time. "Luka! I gotta go!" he yelled. He didn't even know if the scream was related to Milaya or not, but he didn't want to take any chances. This was the excuse he had been looking for.
Luka looked up from her post and nodded. Rana could watch his booth while he checked on this. He would be able to downplay any issues that arose and sell to the correct people while Calimero investigated the scream. Oh, curse this potion! He should have never taken it in the first place. Not only would it be a loss of three bits, but that girl invaded his mind with every step.
Calimero ran through the narrow corridor of people, passing stalls and groups of people in front of other booths before getting to the end. The Ovest Traders Market had a spoke and wheel arrangement, with the center being where performances took place on the main stage and where the police station was. At the moment, two fiddle players were on the stage, locked in a duel of wits and magic as people watched and cheered their favorite on. The crowd was thick, but he could see a police officer grabbing Milaya by the hair and pulling her through the din.
Calimero took a huge breath. This would take all of his gumption. He might lose his booth. But they couldn't take an Easterner who didn't know any better.
"Excuse me," he said, tapping a police officer nearby on the shoulder. "Can you tell me what's going on here?"
The officer gave him a stern look. "Stand back. She's from the Eastern Provinces." She returned to form, hands behind her back, staring straight ahead.
Calimero watched as one of the other officers kept leading Milaya through the crowd. "Uh...okay. Is there something -"
"Queen's orders. She doesn't have a passport, and people from the Eastern Provinces are only allowed on the Nord side of town. We'll be taking her back to headquarters."
"Oh, I don' think that'll be necessary."
Calimero turned. A new man was standing in the aisle, tall and foreboding against the sun. His huge, long-brimmed hat cast an extra shadow on the ground, making him seem even more mysterious. His arms were crossed and his gaze was true, staring down the others.
"Young man," the police officer said, without a change in her demeanor, "I fail to see why you are so important around here."
He tipped up his hat, and Calimero caught a glimpse of his dark skin. "Well, I fail to see why yer so important 'round here as well. Ain't that right, Blue?"
Calimero noticed for the first time that there was a young lady standing next to the strange man in a vest and long pants. The more he looked at her, the more he noticed how fake she looked, the long, platinum blonde hair, the dress that in style matched the man's Western gear, the eerily blue eyes.
"What is a sheriff?" the police woman asked, her own eyes not moving from this stranger and his partner.
He gave her a smile. "Wouldn't ya like to know."