Over three years later, Aimee paused outside another door. This time, it was not the soft clucking of hens that mingled with the early songs of the crickets that filled her ears, but the muffled sound of male voices broken occasionally by bawdy laughter. Going home now was not an option. For how could she go home, and explain to Aunt Nim what had really happened these last few years?
Adaro had kept his end of the bargain to Aimee. She had traveled with him and whatever other performers he could retain in their small troupe. She had done a lot of menial tasks at first, and in turn had been justly instructed and trained by Adaro. As she grew in confidence and ability, she had taken parts in the plays they put on in towns and villages, she had sang duets with Adaro in the winter halls of the wealthy, she had learned the art of “reading” fortunes to entertain women with far more coin and time than productive outlets for their time. But she didn’t know about Adaro’s business “on the side.” Didn’t know, or hadn’t wanted to put the parts of the puzzle together to see the larger picture.
After all, before she left home, she had been full of questions. Why then was it she never asked Adaro what he meant? On those rare evenings when they weren’t performing in some manner or another, when Adaro would drink his wine and begin reminiscing. With the first glass or so he told wonderful tales of places he had seen, parties he had witnessed, adulations he had received. After a few glasses, the tales became more baleful, winters he had been cold and hungry, rich patrons who had cheated him, insults he had borne. Then he would tell Aimee, she would see. No one wanted an old, washed-up performer. She would spend all her days and all her youth and all her energy making others happy….and in return she would spend her old age cold, hungry, alone, trying to make enough coin to keep her belly full and her bed warm. But not Adaro. He would grin slyly, his words slightly slurred, and repeat, no Adaro. He had it all figured out. No one was going to kick Adaro to the curb. At which point Aimee would put the glasses up and the bottle away. She would mutter meaningless phrases in a soothing voice. She would guide the silver-haired bard to his room and bid him a good night, telling him he would feel better again in the morning. And she never asked what he meant.
She should have.
She had the option of sailing away with him. When he finally decided he had built up enough of a nest egg, he had given her the option of coming with him. And he had assured her that he never had taken enough to be missed. He had been careful, he assured Aimee. Oh so careful. The largest parties, the grandest homes. A little here, a little there. Not enough in any one place to be noticed. When the guests were all assembled. When the other performers were going through their routines and the dogs were jumping through their hoops and the halflings were doing their flips and Aimee was managing props and the order of the acts. When everyone was distracted, Adaro would slip away and ensure his retirement.
She didn’t leave with Adaro.
So now, she was Aimee the Seer. She takes a deep breath, drawing herself into a straighter posture, assuming the confidence of the part. The unnatural red Adaro had had her dye her hair was nearly faded out. She had cut off as much as she could on her own, and now her hair hung to her shoulders and was mostly back to its natural honey hues. She jangles the cheap bangles on her wrists and adjusts the vibrant scarf on her head to make sure the points of her ears are clearly visible. Presentation is everything. She was about to walk through a door into a crowded tavern and convince its patrons that they wanted to give her money in return for whatever fortune she could convincingly spin out of the information she could slyly ply from them and she needed to convince the barkeep that he wanted to give her free food and shelter for the night in return for entertaining his patrons in a manner that did not involve dancing on a table. And she needed to figure some other gig out soon, because winter was coming, and she was not going to show up on her aunt’s doorstep during the first winter storm.