“Well…say somethin’ then.”
“Something.” said Steiffa.
“Her mouth moved that time – I saw!” piped a woman from the crowd crowding Steiffa’s small place in the exhibits line.
“It’s a trick…not even a good trick…cummon, I only come t’see the Bear Girl.”
Steiffa knew this Bear Girl. Tethered round the neck and set upon a cart piled with straw. This Bear Girl naked, but for strips of old rugging hung on her. She squeaked pleasing small roarings, more like raaarrrings, and flailed her fingers at her laughing audience, rocking on its heels before her cart and mocking her fearsome attackings under dancing torchlight. And she laughed. Only ever laughed, as if even this was just more fun for Bala. A simple girl from the lower town. Always a kind girl, Bala: who never would tread on a little rat. Her sow of a mother, good to her word, had sold her then.
But Steiffa was not in an…advantageous position, as Drakon would say it: not currently even able to make her own escape.
The mustachio’d boss had smooched the thief, Steiffa heard it – “Was so right in sending My Dear. You can keep the job – even if Khoreia does come back! Acquire, I said – Acquire, you did!”
The skinny thief then tumbled her out of that leather pouch. And Steiffa found herself inside a cage made for birds, tall as a tower, and locked inside her little rattie shape, because of that haldan charm specially stitched into the wires under the straw.
Turning her back on her grumbling audience, and shoveling straw with her nose, for her bed for the night, Steiffa held to her heart the certain comfort that she would escape.
She’d gotten out of harder places, she assured herself. Such as her room at the school. And the school crowded with nosy teachers.
Her soft bed. Drakon only along the hall. Their nightly adventures exploring the school. She sighed, her heart sinking that little, until she stopped it.
The thief, or somebody, surely would be careless, sometime. Small things were always escaping their cages. It might even be some strange sort of rule that she should ask Drakon about.
And she would, Steiffa promised herself. After her escape. And taking Bala with her. And she'd find him, just as she'd promised Madame.
“Little girrrl.” said the thief, her painted face gigantic, and something…more perfuming her breath, along with the onions she ate for dinner.
She wore an acrobat’s little costume, its silver threads flashing in the torchlight. Only boys and men lingered behind her. A pair of those soldiers, too, who wore the red: snickering over the thief. All eyes only watching her, bending at the waist before the rat abed in her cage.
“Remember, little girrrl. You’ll have t’tell us…when you are hungry.”