(Mild content warning on this one.)
It was dark before Esmina found her way back to the Liar’s Respite, and despite her heart pounding in fear and exertion as she raced back, it was met with no words at all on her father’s part. As relieved as she was, though, she was afraid she might face repercussions later.
They had gotten two rooms, adjacent to each other. The Tenshari servant standing guard outside had been kind in greeting, as Berold had probably paid him to be. Since they had brought almost none of their own servants with them to Tal’Doraken, it seemed her father was being generous with his coin.
Esmina retired into her rooms, as silently as possible so as not to rouse her father. She found that her trunk had been brought to her room, and after changing into a nightgown fell back onto her bed with a lazy sigh.
She didn’t have any way to know for sure, but she could have sworn her father had waited until she started drifting her off to sleep to wake her up.
“Esmina,” he said, swinging the door open without so much as a knock of warning. “Time to go.”
She woke back up with a start. Looking out the window, it seemed just as dark as it was when she first walked in, but that wasn’t saying much.
“Quickly now,” he demanded. “We have places to be.”
“May I at least clothe myself, father?” she asked.
“Don’t be daft,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to whisk my daughter away unclothed. What kind of father do you take me for? You have three minutes.” And with that, he closed the door. Yesterday, that would have been a stupid question. He was cruel, but not stupid. But then he bought a drunkard as her escort through the city.
Soon, she was dressed once again in a simple long tunic and leggings. Fresh clothes, in case anyone recognized her. Besides, they would only be here for the day, and she had packed an excess.
Soon her and her father were back in the streets of the city. It was colder than she remembered it being. Had she actually fallen asleep for a while, or was it the panic of running back to the inn that made her misremember?
Her father seemed to be in a bad mood, which she considered a small blessing, because they did not speak much as they made their way through the sparse torchlight of the city. Berold held the Night Seal writ in his hands, all but marching towards the Ministry Office as they went. The streets were mostly empty now, with some Tenshari servants milling about.
She kept quiet, avoiding anything that might cause him to speak to her. As they walked she noticed that the buildings on the street they were currently on had enormous windows, almost walls of glass. So much glass had to cost an insane amount of money, and it was everywhere. They had no signs announcing what kind of establishment they were, but whatever their purpose was, they were towing the line as to what religious customs regarded as ‘indoors’. Esmina paled when she stole a glance inside.
Several women walked around inside, wearing little more than undergarments as they tended to their patrons. Aenias above, those two didn’t even have that much decency. And what was that one doing to…
“We’re walking next to the brothels?” Esmina hissed, voice hushed.
“It’s the quickest way to the Ministry Offices,” her father replied, unconcerned. It was not a defense, it was the simple explanation.
“I’m fourteen, father,” she said.
“And yet I imagine you’re still older than some of the workers here.”
She was so appalled she almost retched. What had gotten into him lately? “This is too far,” she said.
He glanced down at her. “You may not care for me very much, but know that this is a life you do not have to endure. This is the life of many an orphan with nowhere else to go.”
She broke his gaze. Another one of his vile lessons. Her eyes wandered to another one of the buildings, and to her amazement she recognized the drunkard from earlier today, with a… maid, sitting on his lap. He was well dressed now, and he gazed outside as the two of them passed.
Some primal fear caught Esmina as she looked away, ashamed and embarrassed that she had seen two people so… engaged. She noticed her father looking in the direction of the drunkard. They were making eye contact.
And Berold nodded to him.