The customer was getting on Lizzie’s last nerve. Her eyes flicked more and more frequently between his back and forth stalking of the herbry’s shelves and the clock fastened to the wall, covered in ornate carvings of vines and botanical details. The shop was closing in less than five minutes and she wanted to leave as soon as it did. The threat of a heavy spring rain had grown more certain throughout the day and she was going to be cutting it close if she wanted to avoid getting drenched.
Thunder cracked outside, making the door of the shop groan and their little leaded glass display window began to rattle as it was assaulted from without by the heavy blows that preceded their usual downpours. She rubbed at the side of her head, it was too late now.
“I say, do you have any orris root?” The customer had made his way to her soil-stained wooden countertop while she was distracted. She frowned at him.
“Do you want powdered or dried whole root?” They were in different locations of the shop because their application varied greatly. Powdered orris tended to be used for more subterfugal potions, ingested products that didn’t always have the effect their taker might think. Whole root was more common and had a wide range of household applications, rarely as sinister. If questioned, she didn’t know the difference, of course. Technically it only made her better at her job, but the texts containing the knowledge of application were banned in the lower wards of the city by pain of death. The maximum sentence hadn’t been carried out in years but it wasn’t something she wanted to risk her own neck over.
The timber door of the shop flew open, slamming into the wall. Lizzie thought the wind might have finally defeated the aging latch, but two wet shapes stepped hurriedly through the opening, slamming the beleaguered door in their wake. They were covered in heavy oilskin cloaks that shed an immense amount of water onto her floor, and old fashioned tricots hats that covered a good deal of their faces and were tilted down as rain ran off of them in rivulets as well.
“Rather,” One was saying to the other, “but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?”
“Whole, I suppose,” the annoying customer once again drew her attention. “Does it matter?”
Lizzie couldn’t stop herself giving him a judgemental look. He was well dressed, although not for a storm the poor sot, and clearly from the upper quarters of town. He had permissions to buy whatever he wanted and the arrogance that backed it up far more than any letter of mark could from the Mage’s Council. Orris root was also a common enough ingredient, her herbry didn’t even bother growing theirs themselves it was so plentiful, instead buying from a greenhouse in a lower ward. He could have picked this up anywhere closer to home, yet he didn’t even care enough to specify what he clearly needed for whatever he was making. She fetched the jar without comment.
The cloaked men had thrown their hats back, shaking off what excess water they could throughout the shop. They were of a similar age to her current annoyance, young enough to be idiots and old enough to know better. That, and their clothes were of a finer cut as well and she had more mages in her shop slumming it for whatever reason. It wasn’t really her business.
She wrapped the orris root in parchment so it wouldn’t get wet and reached for the other items the first customer had thrown down on the counter in front of her. As she tallied them up her eyes narrowed. The items the man had collected were for a supposed love potion, printed in one of the common contraband books she had squirreled away at her greenhouse back home. It wasn’t known to have a high success rate though when it did it was dangerous. It also wouldn’t work with dried whole orris root. Lizzie shook herself out of her hesitation and kept wrapping the ingredients up.
“Have you considered using valerian root instead of orris?” She kept wrapping hardly daring to look up for his reaction.
“No, why on earth would I get that?” He asked.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.” Lizzie produced an oiled paper bag from beneath the counter, usually an up charge but in this case a stalling tactic. “Only some of the gents that come in her for orris get that as well. I heard one of them says a pinch of it made their workings more potent. I always recommend it after that, sir.”
The customer didn’t want to lose face. Instead of admitting he’d never heard that - it was a lie anyway - he asked instead, “How much is that supposed to cost me.”
Valerian was kept closer to the counter, it was something they only grew in-house and less common in the city. “Tell you what, sir, I’m not supposed to, but I can throw some in for two coppers, since you were such a good customer today.”
“Fine.” The customer gestured at the jar and Lizzie hurried to add some to his order. If Loren threatened to take it out of her pay she could always grow more. It was worth it if he used it with his working anyway, for the effect it would have. The man paid and turned to go, and almost ran into the two other men in the shop.
The clock rang out the hour as he did so and the first customer nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Hello Drury.” The shorter of the newcomers spoke up, “fancy running into you here.”
“Hart. Pitkins.” The customer spat out. “I was just leaving.”
The other newcomer had crooked his finger along the edge of the bag Lizzie had given the fleeing man and he peered inside before the man, Drury, could pull away. He traded a look with his vocal friend.
“I see. Drury, lovely to see you as ever. If I catch you hanging around my sister again I’ll break your legs. Do you get me?” Every word out of his mouth was in the most civil of tones, as if he were talking weather at a dinner party.
“Shove off, Hart, I’ll do as I please.” The customer straightened his jacket as if puffing himself up and shoved his way past the two men and out of the store. He didn’t bother closing the door behind him. It banged against the wall in the wind, the rain seeking the opportunity to blow around inside the room.
The man who had spoken made a small gesture and the door slammed shut once again.
“Our apologies if he upset you, miss.” The previously silent of the pair offered with a slight bow.
Lizzie curtsied out of sheer nerves. “Can I help you gents find anything, we’re just about to close up for the day.”
The men had turned back toward each other, ignoring her.
“Whole orris.” The silent man told his companion.
“Thank goodness for the idiots of the world.” The shorter man replied. “And that Drury slept his way through school.”
The two of them turned back toward the door. Lizzie allowed herself to let out her breath.
“And valerian for some reason.”
The pair of the stopped in their tracks and the shorter of the pair turned halfway back to look directly at her.
“I wasn’t aware there were shops in the wards carrying valerian.”
Lizzie fumbled for words. “We only stock it for our deliveries to the quarters, sirs.” She bobbed another curtesy, at this point she figured it couldn’t hurt.
“Where do you buy it from?”
“We grow it in house, sir.” Another curtesy and her leg was beginning to cramp.
“How strange, it needs rather particular attention does it not? Chalky I believe.”
“Alkaline, sir.” Lizzie cursed internally just a second to late. She could possibly save the shop’s reputation though. “We grow several rarities that we only sell to the nobs in the quarters or the Hill directly, sirs.” She threw two curtsies in for luck and let out a breath as her knee cramped.
“How colorful,” the gentleman raised his eyebrows.
Lizzie’s face reddened as her brain caught up to the slip of her tongue. “Some of them can be, yes.”
“well then, do you have any witherwort on hand?”
It was a controlled substance. She swallowed.
“We do, sir - and we have the proper licenses for it. I can’t sell any to you unless you’re with the right University department.”
He waved his question aside. “Valley fern then?”
“We’ve a little, it’s rather pricey.” But it wasn’t much of a substitute for witherwort in most cases.
“Yes, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. Ours is pickled and smells something awful.”
“Yes, in their season.”
“Is that in the autumn?”
“Nah, You’ve missed this year’s by a month.”
“Is that right Pickett?” The gentleman half turned to his friend, who gave the slightest nod. “Hmm I must have it crossed with something else.”
“Gainsbury’s season is the fall,” Lizzie said, drawing their attention back to her, “it’s used in a lot of similar things. I’ve heard. I’m sorry, was that not also part of your patronizing shopping list?”
“You seem to be quite knowledgeable for a shopgirl in the wards.” The non commented, half to his friend again.
“I’m a professional, sir, it would be dangerous not to.” And she bristled at his assumption that others down here were incompetent either. “Anyways, I’d wager for a group of herbalists from down here against any from the Hill any day of the week.” Folk down in the wards didn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.
“Would you now? Would you put yourself forward as a representative of your species?”
The smart thing would be to tell him no, she had a family and customers she might endanger if something happened to her. She opened her mouth to tell the nob to get the hell out of her shop.
“This is hardly proper Hart,” the quiet friend insisted. “She wouldn’t last a minute against the crust at home.”
“The hell I wouldn’t!”
“Think how much fun it would be to try and pass her off at my mother’s garden party.” They we’re still ignoring her.
“That’s a horrid idea.”
The nob was still speaking though, “We could show her a thing or two, the Fellows there wouldn’t know what hit them.” He had a dangerous gleam in his eyes now.
“You of all people will show her nothing of the sort. Remember where we’re standing right now. The council would take issue with it lest of all the gossip circles.”
That stopped the nob in his verbal tracks. He blinked at his companion, looked down at the floorboards beneath his soaked leather shoes, looked at Lizzie as a cat might eye a bird, and then back to his friend. A grin spread across his face and his tone slowed as if otherwise occupied in thought. “Now that my friend is an excellent idea.”
“I don’t think it’s ever been done. Can you think of a single study concerning that?”
“I don’t think everything is about academic glory.” The taller friend, Pickett, started pulling his friend toward the door. “You’ve clearly gone mad, let’s get you home.”
“I need to consult some books.”
“Keep this up and you’ll be seeing a physician.”
The door to the shop opened and closed as they passed through, and since it didn’t slam either way Lizzie had a feeling it was Pickett wielding magick that time. She sagged against the counter, that had been too revealing for comfort.