Raiia felt a tingle of excitement as she entered the room and looked around. It was different to the heart-thumping thrill she’d had while sneaking out of the school, or the stomach- clenching feeling as she’d handed her invitation to guards on entering the building. This was more a buzz of anticipation, the sense that she was part of something grand and exciting.
Getting here had been, in the end, much easier than she had anticipated. The invitation she had found in her room had come with instructions on the best way to go, though she liked to think she could have managed sneaking out herself. Perhaps next time she’d try a different way. Entering the building had been the more nervous moment for her; unsure what to expect within, and being greeted by the sight of a giant of a man had left her a little shaken. But confidence was not something she lacked, and so she had strode forward and boldly presented her pass, then made her way into this cellar.
Raiia’s experience of inns, bars and any such similar venues was limited to her visits to Belor’s with her family, and she was thrilled at how different this experience was. There seemed all types here, from street thugs to scholars, although the leaning seemed more toward the educated than the former, to her delight. She liked to think of herself as clever, and this was far more the kind of company she felt she would be at home amongst. And while at Belor’s the general feeling seemed to her one of either quiet relaxation or boisterous debauchery depending on the individual, here it was of a secret shared and a vision to a brighter future. Or so she liked to think.
She noted the variation in how those here had attempted to disguise their identities, from no apparent regard for such at all, to wearing masks, and everything in between. She surreptitiously studied some of those in masks, trying to garner some clue as to what kind of person was wearing it by observing movement, posture and gestures. She felt that wearing a mask really attracted more attention to oneself, which is why she had chosen not to wear the one that had been left by her benefactor. That, and it was designed to represent some kind of beetle or some such, and she hated bugs. Instead, she had decided to make herself appear as plain and unobtrusive as possible; no need to look at her too closely if she appeared to be hiding nothing.
Such mundane disguise was routine for someone with her acting talents, and she had quickly and easily used makeup to not only adjust her skin tone, but alter the shading and highlights to make her face appear rounder and broader. Her hair she had piled under a hat, which also covered the tips of her ears, and coloured the bits left hanging down a short way more darkly. Her eyes she could do little about, and hoped the shadow from her broad hat and the general unobtrusiveness of her appearance would stop people noticing their near-luminous blue-green hue. Perhaps in hindsight she shouldn’t have made herself look human; had she embraced the elven side of her appearance her eyes would not have been incongruous. Ah well, a lesson for next time, but overall she was happy with the result. In fact, she was excited enough about her disguise skills that she was only a little bitter at how easy it had been to make her body appear to be that of a boy with not much more thought than wearing rather shapeless garments.
Raiia continued to observe from a shadowy position, looking closely at those around her, listening in to their conversations. By the time half an hour had passed, that buzz of excitement had well and truly passed, and she was starting to feel foolish for coming here. She wasn’t sure exactly what she had expected, but it wasn’t this. Sure, she heard dissatisfied talk about recent events in the city, but there were no rousing exhortations to action against Thrunes or Asmodeans. Her interest pricked as a man came to the stage and introduced himself as Gruckalus, but when he started juggling she snorted to herself and made for the door.
“Leaving already, lad?” came a deep voice as she passed the makeshift bar that had been set up just near the exit.
Raiia looked over to see the heavyset barman regarding her keenly. It made her feel a little uncomfortable, and she realised that behind his friendly regard there was a hint of suspicion. Deciding she didn’t want whatever trouble might come of continuing to walk past him, she smoothly altered her gait slightly to step to the bar.
“Ah, no.” She replied quickly, trying to lower the pitch of her voice slightly. “Just coming for a drink.” She smiled.
“Really?” The Barman replied, one eyebrow rising slightly as he leaned forward on the counter with brawny forearms. “ Could have sworn you were making for the door. And so early too. Gotta say, seems a bit strange to me when someone comes down here, spends a good deal of time studying the other attendees, then tries to sneak out just as the fun’s starting.”
“If I was sneaking you’d never have seen me!” she replied, tossing her head indignantly, then relaxing a little at The Barman’s responding chuckle. “But I was leaving. This…” she said gesturing dismissively at the jester who was continuing his hijinks on stage “Was not really what I was expecting.”
“The young’ns are always too impatient.’ The man said, his smile widening. “How about we get you that drink, and in a few minutes I’ll be bettin’ you change your mind. What’ll you have?”
“Um, wine please.” Raiia replied, but was then at a loss as The Barman gestured to the various bottles arrayed around him for her to select from. She’d never really paid any attention when her parents had brought the small cup of the stuff she was allowed when they went to Belor’s for dinner. She knew that learning about wines was one of the things she would eventually do at Lady Docur’s, but so far they had only studied tea. She picked one at random, and confirmed confidently when The Barman queried her choice. It was a much darker red than she remembered having in the past, and had a much stronger flavour as she began to sip it (for some reason the stuff she’d had before tasted somewhat more watery), but it wasn’t terrible.
Presently thoughts of wine fled as Grauckalus was replaced on stage by a young woman dressed all in black. Raiia found herself leaning forward eagerly as she listened intently to the Little Black Swan’s voice as she recited her poetry.
“Aye, has the effect, she does.” The Barman says, coming back to Raiia a little later as she continued to stare transfixed at the stage. “Another?”
Raiia looked at her glass, only now realising it was empty. She had been continuing to sip throughout the performance, and had obviously become accustomed to the taste. She absently handed over a few coppers to The Barman as she turned her attention back to the performance.
The only real performer she had ever seen was Pavo, and if she was going to be honest with herself (which she wasn’t), this Little Black Swan was more engaging. Her works seemed more emotional than those of the Poison Pen she had read, though perhaps that was simply the difference between watching a performance and reading the words. Now, if she just had Pavo sitting here with her to watch this, she dreamed.
“So, who did you say gave you the invitation?” The Barman enquired innocently as he refilled her glass.
“Oh, Pavo.” She replied, saying the first name that came to mind. The fact was she had no idea who was providing her with the poetry and the invitation to this Speakeasy, and she felt some kind of answer was expected.
“Really?” The Barman seemed a little taken aback at the response. “Well, in that case I imagine the Little Black Swan will like a word with you when she finishes. I’ll let her know.”
Shit. As The Barman turned his back to speak serve another customer, Raiia quickly downed the rest of her wine and made for the door. For some reason she felt a little wobbly as she first got up, but the feeling quickly passed. Probably too much time sitting, she thought as she made her way out to the street.
“See, told you you wouldn’t see me if I was sneaking.” She muttered to herself in delight as she stepped outside.