Honeywell was a strange little town. Eturia, and the South by extension, had established itself as the home of culture and the arts. If an artisan wished to prove himself a true master of his craft, his work had to meet the incredibly high standards of the master craftsmen of both Eturia and Olmaea. The smaller towns that ran on less glamourous trades—milling, fishing, farming—had taken to treating their trade as if it were an art, and the people there would perfect their trade as the years went by. All except for Honeywell.
The largest provider of honey in all the world, Honeywell was expected to follow suit and turn honey making into something artisanal and fanciful, but its citizens chose instead to simply leave things as they were. The honey bees did all the hard work, and the end result was liquid gold. Why should they tamper with it beyond need? Unlike the rest of the South, Honeywell had prospered through very little work at all and still managed to be one of the South’s best known tourist traps.
It was this fact that would work in Rin and Aoife’s favour. Honeywell was used to people coming and going day in and day out, and as such the people that called it home never paid much attention to the passers by. Two disheveled and hungry looking youths weren’t cause for concern, and though they wouldn’t realise it, Rin and Aoife should have been more than grateful of that. That didn’t change the fact that it had taken them two days to reach Honeywell, though, and it certainly didn’t change the fact that neither of them had eaten in as many days either. With no money between them, their future was beginning to look bleak. Aoife was even starting to consider returning to Eturia and facing the city watch, in the hopes that she might get something to eat if she cooperated.
While the residents of Honeywell might not have paid attention to the pair, someone in Honeywell noticed them. He hadn’t necessarily been intending on spotting them—people watching wasn’t exactly a hobby of his—but he was used to turning situations to his advantage, and the two of them were perfect for what he had in mind. Not that he had much in mind in that moment, besides a distraction. He waited til the two were comfortable enough in their surroundings before making his move. He’d watched them try and beg food from a few market stalls now, and neither had had much success. Oh, how that worked in his favour.
“You two look hungry,” he announced as he made his way over to them, making Rin startle. “I can fix that.”
“And why would you be so eager to help?” Rin asked, suspicious.
The stranger’s brusque accent said everything about him that Rin needed to know. He was from Olmaea, and not the best part by the sounds of it. The grubby state of his clothes implied he had left somewhere in a hurry, and his hulking frame suggested he was a labourer of some sort. Where Rin saw someone suspicious, though, Aoife saw someone eager to help.
"We haven't eaten in days," she confessed, much to Rin's chagrin.
"See, this is why you oughtta prepare better when you're going out to get one on one with nature," the Olmaean said, tone deceivingly similar to that of a travelling salesman. Rin half expected him to whip out a bottle of some tonic or another and claim it could cure all their ills. "I get it, though. Hell, I'm guilty of doing it myself. It's a city thing, I think." He spoke the last part in a stage whisper, earning a quiet laugh from Aoife in response.
"What makes you so certain we are from the city, Mister...?" Rin asked defensively.
"Shay Tanner, at your service. And I can tell by the way you're dressed. The humble folk of Honeywell don't dress so fancy."
Rin certainly didn't think they were dressed fancily. In fact, he was decidedly underdressed for entertaining polite company, and Aoife was barely in more than a nightgown, something that still turned his cheeks beetroot red all the way to the tips of his ears.
“Please, Shay, whatever you can do to help, we’ll appreciate it,” Aoife said, intervening before Rin had a chance to snap out a snarky comment. The last thing they needed was for Rin to start a fight with their new acquaintance, and to miss out on the chance of a semi decent meal.
The Olmaean pretended to think about it for a moment, index finger tapping his chin as he faked mulling things over. He could see the desperation in the girl’s face, and more interestingly he could see the annoyance in her friend’s. What was he to her? Husband? Fiance? Brother? Client? Poor girl if he thought a day trip to Honeywell was compensation for letting him use her as a mattress for the night.
“I suppose I can still help you. I didn’t catch your names, though,” he said, an almost challenging look directed at Rin.
Rin didn’t like him. Rin didn’t trust him further than he could throw him, and the Westerner doubted he could even pick the stranger up. What if he was working for the city watch? He wouldn’t put it past them to have men undercover, almost like spies, to root out criminals in hiding. Not that they were criminals, he had to remind himself. If he could have helped it, Rin would have kept their names to themselves, or at least given him fake ones, but once again Aoife pipped him to the post and gave herself away. It was hard to ignore the doe eyed look in her eyes.
“I’m Aoife Olette, and this is Rin Cor—”
“Rinian Corsica,” he interjected. Rin was a nickname he reserved for people he was fond of, not suspicious looking strangers he had met on the street.
“Nice to meet you, Aoife Olette. I’d say the same extended to you, Rinian, but something tells me your lady here likes me better than you do,” the Olmaean said with a smirk. The man reeked of arrogance and cockiness, and it rubbed Rin up the wrong way, but there was nothing that could be done about it as long as he had Aoife enamoured. “Now, I can get you lovely folks something to eat, but you have to do something for me.”
“Nothing too difficult, I hope?” Aoife asked, corners of her mouth threatening to form a smile.
“No, no, nothing too difficult at all. What I need you to do, dollface, is go over there with Rinian—” He pointed to a small fountain in the centre of the town. “And I want you to start yelling at each other. Make as much of a scene as you can, I want everyone’s eyes on you. Think you can handle that, beautiful?”
Rin rolled his eyes so hard it almost hurt. Surely Aoife could see this stranger was playing her for a fool? Yes, she was beautiful, but to say it so casually and so openly? Especially when Aoife was so stuck on her customs and the ways of old, chivalrous knights. The heroes in the old stories used to express the beauty of their ladies through actions and gifts that could only hope to match their looks. They didn’t announce it five minutes after first meeting in the middle of a town market.
Aoife, on the other hand, was all but sitting in the Olmaean’s palm. A dusky pink glow had dusted across her cheeks, and she covered her mouth with a coy hand. She was eating up everything Shay had to offer, and she didn’t even realise it. She couldn’t be faulted for that, though. Shay had perfected the art of cajolery, and knew better how to speak in sweet nothings than he did with sincerity. She didn’t give Rin a chance to protest—or perhaps she did, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to, and hell if that didn’t make him mad. He could criticise her for acting a fool in front of Shay, but a tiny, insignificant part of him couldn’t help pointing out he did exactly the same when it came to her—and strolled off to the fountain.
In Eturia, everything had been made of marble or granite, or something equally as plush and luxurious. Even the more run down buildings spoke of a more ostentatious past, and while the orphan knew not to expect such grandiosity outside of her home city, the state of Honeywell’s fountain shocked her all the same. It was large enough that someone might be able to seat themselves at its rim, but given the chips in the base and the water that sloshed over the side in miniscule tidal waves from time to time, she thought that one might think better of that plan. It was made of a strange pastel grey stone, something she would come to learn was called concrete, and the water that ran through it was dull and cloudy, as if it had picked up remnants of dust and stone along its journey. Unlike the fountain in Eturia, which depicted figures from the world’s history, Honeywell’s fountain depicted its pride and joy. The fountain itself had three tiers of stone for the water to cascade down, but seated at the top was a large, ornately carved honey bee. It was the only part of the fountain not covered in the constant torrent of water, and somehow that only served to make the bee itself more interesting to look at.
The fountain itself, however, was not to be the focal point of their actions. Unbeknownst to them, Shay had picked the fountain purely because their distraction would leave people’s backs to him. He was confident enough in himself that he wouldn’t need a distraction, but an extra helping hand wouldn’t hurt. Especially one as willing as the girl. He waited until the two of them were in place, pretending to peruse the array of honey jars on one of the market stalls. Everything was staged beautifully, all he needed was an equally perfect execution, and they’d be out of here without a hint of suspicion.
It was just his luck, then, to discover that both Aoife and Rin were terrible actors. He couldn’t quite hear what they were yelling about—that worried him more than anything—and had to fight to catch either of their attention and subtly tell them to amp it up. He'd guessed they were green, but that was painful to watch. It wasn’t until Rin employed Asta's tactics that their distraction built up steam. The venom in his voice held no truth, but he had spent years listening to his father and the experience left him skilled enough at faking it, bad acting aside. He called her a whore. Questioned her purity, her morals, and her decency. It tore him apart to do it, but that shy little Western boy managed to incite the crowded Honeywell market into a frenzy, descending upon the innocent young woman like a flock of buzzards. He could see she was close to tears, and Maker, did he want to rescind his accusations, but they had to keep this going for as long as Shay needed. There'd be hell to pay otherwise, if Aoife's enthrallment was anything to go by. Rin knew his sour mood was little more than jealousy, but he still found himself hoping that Shay wasn't around for long.
Shay, meanwhile, was busy rifling through Honeywell"s wares. His main interest had been real gold, not its liquid counterpart, but now there were two more people involved in his scam, he had put further pressure on himself. Much as he loved a challenge, stealing was a lot less stressful when it was an easy drop. He could go without the cash for another day, he supposed, but there was no way in hell he would score a set up this sweet again. Convincing innocent bystanders to help you steal wasn't something that could be done twice on the same person, unless they were incredibly dim, or had a taste for thievery. As naive as the girl seemed, her guard dog was no idiot.
So he rifled through the stalls, fast and inconspicuous as he could muster. The trick wasn’t in taking the most expensive objects, but in taking enough small ones that their absence wouldn't be immediately noticed. It was this strategy—something of a trademark of his back in Olmaea—that had gotten him through his childhood. He had seen friends, not that he would label them as such, lose fingers, and thumbs, and entire hands as penance for their crimes. Shay had been caught a fair few times, but the fact that he retained all his limbs and extremities was a testament to his ability to talk his way out of bad situations. Had he ever been caught with whole lock boxes, or handfuls of expensive trinkets, that story would likely not be the same. After all, stealing bread was less punishable than stealing gold. Oh, if his mother could see him now.
Once his pilfering was over, and he had gestured for Aoife and Rin to put an end to their ploy, he began to come to the conclusion that the pair didn't know how to reclaim control of the situation. Remind him never to use Southerners again.
"Amelia, are you causing trouble again?" he asked, striding towards the centre of the maelstrom and putting himself dangerously in the spotlight. He spoke in a faux Southern accent, but the Olmaean twang still shone through. "Sorry for the disturbance, ladies and gentlemen."
The volume of the crowd had started to dissipate, but the rumblings of a riot could still be felt beneath their feet. Shay had to hand it to the kid, he knew how to stir up a crowd. Nothing got people hot under the collar better than loose women and shady morals.
Shay turned to face Rin, addressing him as if the two of them had never met. "Please, Sir, excuse my sister and her hysterics. This is the third time this month she's caused a stir. I assure you, we intend to have her committed to the sanitarium in Eturia."
Once again, he spoke the latter statement in hushed tones, as if he were trying to conceal it from Aoife. The look in Shay's eye urged Rin to carry on with their ploy, for fear of the Olmaean turning on him instead.
"See to it that she is," Rin said stuffily, acting every bit the haughty aristocrat as he had learned to mimic through observing Lord Trowbridge.
"Come now, sister," Shay said, steering an arm around Aoife's shoulders and guiding her delicately from the market.