Maya and Gwenldolyn led Wilberta through the Alleys until they emerged on the Back Lane. This time there was no need to wait in the queue, and the trio was ushered into a small grubby office where Breena was sorting some papers.
“Hello again Gwendolyn, and you must be the “Green One,” Breena said nodding to Maya.
“I have been called that on occasion,” said Maya “though it is more about my choice in sarees than for anything mystical. How are you ‘Bright One?'”
They both smiled, and Gwendolyn felt she was on the outside of an inside joke.
“And this is . . .” Breena began.
“Wilberta,” Wil interjected.
” . . . the wiry house breaker,” Breena continued. “You are welcome, as well.”
Wilberta felt suddenly naked before Breena, and after the experience of being caught by Maya earlier in the day she began to wonder what she had gotten herself into.
“Can we trust her?” Gwendolyn asked.
“Definitely. She is like you and Thilda: troubled, and trying to survive, but her heart is good,” Breena replied.
“Good, that is what I hoped,” Gwendolyn rejoined. “I am good at what I do – locks and such, but I am no climber.”
“Wil, we need a “specialist,” if you know what I mean. It’s not technically thieving, more of an adventuring into some pretty dodgy places. Would you like a job?”
Wilberta stood with her mouth aghast, not quite taking it all in. “Arh, I . . . um, can you say it again?”
“We are going beyond the frontier to the borderlands. There is a treasure there and we aim to take it. We have a couple of fighters, a healer, and an Enchantress, we need another ‘thief.’ Are you in?” Gwendolyn explained.
“I think so. How dangerous will it be?” Wil questioned.
“I cannot lie to you,” Breena said. “It will be perilous, but if we survive great things can come of it.”
Wilberta stood deep in contemplation and then nodded. “Okay, I’m with you.”
* * *
Thilda was sitting at her work desk binding the fletching to an arrow, when the others arrived back at the laundry. Now there were five of them. “Five ‘sisters,'” Gwendolyn thought to herself. “This was looking good, especially with Seymour along as well.”
Thilda greeted Maya and Breena, and then looked puzzled at the newcomer.
“Thilda this is Wilberta, she is our new ‘light touch,'” Gwendolyn explained. “Wil, this is Thilda.
Thilda shot a glance at Breena, who smiled and nodded approvingly towards Wilberta.
Thilda taking the cue, stood and shook her hand, “Welcome.”
* * *
Thilda slid her stool back from the bench and removed two floorboards. There was a chest with two new locks on it. She took a key from her neck, and Gwendolyn produced another from her coin purse. She then pulled a folded vellum sheet from the box and spread it out on the table top.
It was the first time all of the sisters had seen the map. Thilda and Gwendolyn had of course, and Maya and Breena seemed to “know” more about it than seemed natural. But for Wilberta it was her first real knowledge of it.
There it was, neatly written in the common tongue with Ralulee characters in brackets in a different hand under each caption. In the corner was the royal seal of Razuli which looked authentic enough. All seemed in order.
The women circled the table and examined it more closely. Breena pointed to a side of the map. “We are here in the Northwest. We will need to cross the Great Runnel here, and enter the disputed lands.”
“Then if we keep to the west, we can enter the mountains via the Long Pass,” Gwendolyn said.
“Are you sure of that?” Thilda challenged. There is a lot of traffic in the pass, and we really don’t need any more attention drawn to us than is necessary. After all we will be five women travelling in the Borderlands.”
“Yes, but Seymour will be with us too, . . . but I take your point.” Gwendolyn conceded.
“When I was travelling with the circus,” Wil chimed in, “we went through the foothills here. They are fairly easy to travel, and there is a small “Runnel League” town at the base of the peaks which has a tavern as well.
“In that case we should cross at the ferry, here, instead of the bridge,” Thilda said.
“Good idea,” Gwendolyn and Maya said almost in unison.
“We will then enter the mountains above the Runnelman town, and it will also give us less time in the desert on the other side,” Gwendolyn observed.
“So all together about three weeks in each direction, though it might take a little longer on the return,” Maya concluded.
“It looks like a plan, then,” Gwendolyn said, and they all nodded in assent.
“What are we going to tell Seymour we are doing?” Thilda asked.
“Good question,” Gwendolyn said musing.
“May I suggest that you tell him the truth,” Breena intervened. “He isn’t as dense as you think.”
“Have you met him?” Thilda asked, chuckling.
“No I think we should, or at least a version of it,” Gwendolyn conceded. “Let’s tell him we need to collect some lost things, that some bad people have taken.”
“I think that will do,” Breena agreed.
“Next, what will we need?” Gwendolyn asked.
“Six good horses, and two pack mules – a wagon will be useless in the mountains,” Thilda observed.
“Good, let’s start with that,” Gwendolyn said. “Maya and Breena, you two make a list of any “special items” you need and I will see if Bertram can source them. Wil, you and I will get the standard stuff, like the bread you kept me from ordering earlier,” she said giving the girl a wink. “Now ladies, let’s have a drink.”
Haunted Wordsmith’s 3TC: Return, Queue, Drink