Last Week’s SS: Dealt – The Search
Victoria told this story to me a thousand times. She said that it was important that I knew where I came from and the severity of the situation. But I think it was of equal importance to her that I never feel as though I was easily abandoned. My best guess is that she presented them a hefty bag of coin and they handed me over without a second thought. Nor do I think they told her of my destiny. Not until she demanded the card. But Victoria tells the story a bit different.
Across the alley, standing next to her contact, she followed his gaze to see my parents at their cart. Considering their options were few, and all bad, they had been stowing away in the cart at night, tucking it behind a dumpster and camouflaging it in garbage. As Victoria approached the stand, she could smell the evidence. My mother kept a clutch of yarn with her at all times. Among other things they sold her hand made garments. They provided a home-made retro look for some. Or were great to wear to fashion-faux-pas parties. Without a return trip to the forest in days, their wares were running low, and the knitted inventory was all they had to offer.
Unsure of their next move, my parents had decided that it was too risky to try to cross the bridge with my in tow. My guess is they had been shopping me before Victoria approached them. Victoria said that I was the spitting image of my mother. The dark color of the hair and eyes, the fare skin. As I grew into my body, she said that I even had the same slender frame. In the right conditions, if the two of us had ever had the opportunity to stand together, Victoria would have guessed us for sisters, rather than mother and daughter.
But where beauty had blossomed in me, only beauty wasted was evident in my mother. She hadn’t bathed since the hospital, which still made her much cleaner than those who shared her trade. Malnutrition caused her hair and skin to thin prematurely. She enjoyed smoking the wild grass that grew across the bridge. Lines creased across her mouth and cheeks, showing the decades long abuse. Her teeth were yellowed and her eyebrows grew untrimmed.
My father was in the same condition. Gaunt, missing teeth, but quick to smile, so Victoria said. He flashed such a gap-tooth grin at her as she approached their wagon.
“Good evening, fair lady. I’m afraid that our stock is a bit low today, but I’m sure we can find something here you’d like,” he said.
Victoria pointed at my mother. I wriggled in her arms, concealed by a knit blanket.
“I’ll take that,” Victoria said.
“A fine eye,” my mother replied. “We have this blanket available in a few colors.”
“Not the blanket. I’m here to purchase the child.”
“I can see that you don’t think much of us peddling folk. But we don’t go around selling babies,” my father said.
“You’ll sell this one. And I’ll make it worth your trouble,” Victoria said.
“Trouble? She’s our child,” my mother said.
Victoria switched tactics.
“I’m sorry if I have offended you. It’s not my intention. I am not in trading or trafficking. I only mean to help keep her safe. And you, if I can.”
“Who are you?” my mother asked.
“It’s safer for all of us if you don’t know.”
“Are you with the Emperor?” my mother asked.
“I am not here on his behalf. I have come in the hopes of beating him here. Please, give the child to me. I shall reward you. You will be able to retire grandly. Not here in the city, it’s too dangerous. But I have friends that can get you across the bridge. You can go to the towns of the forest, build a new life there, have more children, and never want for anything.”
My parents looked longingly at each other, then sorrowfully down at me.
“Please, for her safety,” Victoria said.
Hesitantly and with eyes full of tears, my mother kissed my check. My father rubbed my head and held my face close to his own. Victoria says they told me they loved me before they handed me over.
“One more thing. I need her card,” Victoria said.
My mother nodded. Covering her hand with the blanket, she picked carefully picked up the card as if it were toxic. She handed it to Victoria. Unafraid, she plucked the card from my mothers hand and placed it in the satchel on her side.
Victoria called the man from across the street. He ran to her, all the while holding up his pants with his hands. He arrived at her side and adjusted his pants rope.
“This is Juxton. Don’t let his looks mislead you. He will get you out of the city and give you your payment.”
“Thank you,” my mother said.
My father began to pack up the cart.
“Leave it. You won’t need it anymore,” Victoria said.