Vientaina Plaza was a different place in the evening; where during the day the pristine white stone was kept clear by the private militia of the Syndicacy, in the evening when business was concluded stalls sprang up around the edges of the plaza selling food, cloth, glass, and spices. The militia still stalked amongst the stalls, ensuring that permits to sell were clearly displayed and that two torches were lit at all times. The torches attracted buyers and deterred thieves and provided light on moonless nights. The spice-sellers often sprinkled pinches of their older spices into their torches to fill the air with exotic scents; Lianna could smell cumin and ginger as she ran down the steps from the library. At the foot of the steps she slowed her pace again, not wanting to attract attention from the militia, and walked briskly past the stalls, noting that the scents changed to something sweeter and heavier -- vanilla, she realised with surprise. Who could afford to burn a spice as rare as vanilla?
Beyond the plaza she headed down a wide street where carpenters had their shops, with picture framers nestled in here and there. About half-way along a side street branched off, mostly filled with houses, but near the end was an inn with rooms for rent and a small stable round the back for horses and the occasional camel. Lianna pushed the door open, choking for a moment of the hot air, aroma of stale beer and the pervasive sweet undertones of roseberry smoke, and went inside.
The Inn of the Violent Orphan was full to the rafters, but Lianna pushed her way through the crowd at the bar to the tables in the back room. All were occupied, most by groups of older men, with lined faces and greying hair and a serious manner that suggested their conversation was about something deep and terrible. Lianna stalked past them to a table where a young man sat by himself, a nearly empty tankard in front of him and a look of misery on his face. She pulled a chair out from the side opposite him and sat down.
"Do I know you?" said the young man, looking up at her.
"You don't want to."
"Well, if you're joining me here you should surely tell me your name."
"Except that I'm not joining you. I'm taking my table back, and you're leaving."
The young man's face twisted into an expression of surprised misery, and he opened his mouth to respond. Lianna leaned in towards him, her face uncomfortably close to his.
"Leave. Find somewhere else to sit if you must, but I'd suggest you leave altogether. I don't want to see you here when I next look up."
"But--" the young man attempted to protest, but his voice cut off abruptly when Lianna kicked his ankle hard under the table. When he still didn't move, she stamped down on his foot, watching the pain cross his face.
"Do what you want," said the young man. "I'm not leaving, and I'll not bother you."
Lianna kicked him again, and seeing that he still made no move to get up growled soundlesslly in her throat. She scanned the room, but all the other tables had more people sat at them and would be difficult to clear. She stared back at her unwelcome table-mate.
"See that you don't," she said. Ignoring him now, she carefully extracted To the Victor the Spoils from her shirt, checking the title before she revealed it by placing it on the table. She'd intended to study the map first, but that wasn't possible with prying eyes.
"Drink, miss?" A grubby urchin of a boy, the innkeeper's son, stood timidly at the edge of the table, just out of punching range. Lianna sneered at him, and felt around in her purse for a coin.
"Do you have any of the red beer left? I'll have that." The urchin nodded vigorously and ran off with the coin. Lianna opened her book and started to read.
"Seems like he knows you," said the young man across the table quietly. "He stood just out of reach."
Lianna closed the book carefully, and tucked it back into her shirt, then placed both hands on the table, half-stood, leaning over her table-mate.
"Who, by Machiabus's belt, do you think you are?" she spat.