Greta wasn’t there when Lizzie closed up the Herbry for the night, nearly a full hour later than normal. Lizzie had gone through meticulously checking their stock in the unlikely event of a raid from the mages council. She had found their licenses for any controlled plants and set them ready just below the counter as well.
it was still raining as she locked the door behind her, but the worst of the storm had blown past, settling down into a steady vertical rain. She had forgotten her umbrella at home, beaten up as it was, and instead huddled beneath her long coat, the rose wool soaked a darker shade by the morose sky. It’s pockets bulged and clinked as she walked, stuffed as they were with vials and little glass pots.
As she grew closer to her detour the street around her filled with life. Even a rainy night couldn’t keep the Gas Market closed. So named for the dozens of gas street lamps that illuminated the elongated public square, the market ran in any weather, as long as there was sun or lamp light. The citizens of the wards worker any or all hours, the factories and the plants that ran the city churning through workers around the clock, or fishermen on their way out with the midnight / witching tide. Dedicated stalls were opened or closed depending on the schedules of their merchants, while transient stalls shared their occupants, sometimes a regular few rotated their wares around the clocks, or a traveling stall might appear once and never be seen again. Lizzie liked those, seeing flashes of lives she didn’t lead, but her destinations were the handful of stall owners that she frequented the most.
To stooped Dana at a cobbler’s stall she brought a pot of ointment for rheumatism. For Arvi at the button seller’s she had a tincture for indigestion. At the butcher’s she set the beeswax based salve on the far end of the counter and waved, Ralston the butcher was busy with customers, but she didn’t want to miss leaving him his relief from cracked hands, besides they said they didn’t get sick as often as she’d been mixing in antibacterial extracts as well.
“Lizzie,” she heard the butcher call from behind her as she snuck off. She turned in time to catch a paper wrapped bundle that they had chucked at her. “Many thanks, as always.”
“Fortune smile on ya, Ralston,” she told them, sticking the package in her coat’s oversized pocket. She would have refused the offering if she could have, but there were few in the wards who could afford to turn their nose up at charity. She just hoped that the meat cost them as little on their end as making the salves did on hers. It seemed a small price of mostly just time spent she could contribute to make her neighborhood a bit of a better place.
She never sold the things she made. Firstly it felt wrong to her, to charge for finding a use for leftover cuttings or aesthetically imperfect herbs. She merely applied her knowledge of botany and the recipes in several of her banned-though-not-for-magical reference books to try and help what ills she might. Even if she had wanted to charge for her meager services, she wouldn’t have dared. All it would take was a jar or bottle making its way into the wrong hands or a disgruntled customer turning to the coppers that seemed to lurk around every corner.
What she did was legal in corners of the city, in the wards with strict licensure and regular inspection, or in the upper quarters with nary but an official storefront by privilege of address. Down on the streets though it was a different story, just trying to help a friend could land her in prison, or worse. What it must be like, she wondered, to work in the quarters where she wouldn’t have to always be looking over her shoulder and she bet the wages were livable.
Folks did it sometimes, broke through the levy walls. She’d heard of at least a handful of wardlings like her who had found employment up there, and had passes to cross the levy’s whenever they pleased. It didn’t even have to be anywhere fancy in the quarters, though she was kidding herself if she didn’t think the whole damned area was fancy. But she’d be perfectly happy in a less snooty corner if there was such a thing, somewhere far away from the university nobs who expected to cow a shopgirl, even if the address was a fancy one. Somewhere that she could practice her trade without fear of repercussion, and even peruse more knowledge where it wouldn’t be a death sentence.
Lizzie burst out laughing on her rounds, as she tended to when she got too in her own head about her prospects. It was a fine dream and that was all. She waved off the concerned face of Mr. Brussi. He was a nice old man who kept to himself for the most part, and that she had a feeling had served in the wars in his youth.
“Just got me head in the clouds,” she told him, “it’s a night for that, sure enough.”
He let out a stiff grunt under his bristling mustache. “Mind you keep your ear to the ground missy. Trouble’s brewin’.”
She just about stopped in her tracks and gawped at him. He’d never said so many words to her before in the two or so years she’d been mixing him joint relief for a bad knee. “Sure’s you say and all that. I always watch me step, I do. Only there’s nothing I need have a mind over, if the world were fair.” Was it her imagination or did the old man almost crack a smile under there. She decided to think that he had. She liked to think she had that effect on the older sots as she kept on her way.
Just a few more stops to fully empty her pockets of her week’s worth of tinctures, pastes, and salves, and she turned south, toward the walled off shoreline, and headed for home.