The ScriptMistress sat back in her chair with a sigh of relief. At long last, the editing of the manuscript from the nether regions was done.
She gave the cockoo clock in the corner a scathing glare at is began to chirp the hour. The job had consumed most of her time for the past three weeks.
She looked longingly out the window of her tower, watching with envy the white flakes of snow drifting down upon the city. Outside it was Christmas Eve. Her friends would be making Merry at the Pig-In-A-Poke Ale House and she wished to be there with them.
She gave a forlorn look at the stack of menus in the corner. A proper meal would be most welcome, but it was too late to dine; the eating establishments would all be closed, and thanks to her brother Hubbard, who was staying over "longer than planned due to unforeseen circumstances," the cupboard at home was bare. For most of the month she'd been subsisting on out-takes from The Hock-of-Ham Beanery and Feng Shui's Chopsuey house.
Well, tonight she would have a pint or two of The Pigs best, then go home to rest. Tomorrow she would feat with friends at His Majesty's expense at the annual Kings Feast.
Buoyed by the thought, she reached for a small piece of foolscap, lifted her quill from its well and wrote;
'Invoice enclosed. Please Pay Promptly.'
She inked her initials in broad, stylised strokes.
Wrapping the manuscript carefully, she placed it inside one of her patented 'Revisions-In-A-Fortnight' (TM) messenger cases and locked it with the client’s private code. Standing, she stretched, feeling her age and found it depressing.
Despite this, she yanked the bell-pull and waited until the runner appeared in her doorway. As she handed him the case she asked, "All has been quiet?"
"Aye ScriptMistress, it has, although there is still that bunch at the door. I tol' 'em you'd now't be seeing others today, but most look like lambs who has lost their way.'
She shook her head. Poor fools, some of them penniless; they congregated at the scriptorium door and would read aloud whenever someone came to enter or exit the establishment, hoping against hope that one of the ScriptMaster's would find it in their hearts to pass favourable judgements on their often equally penniless clients all too meagre efforts.
The ScriptMistress sighed and gathered her cloak and dagger, swirling it around and over her shoulders, then settling and smoothing it before reaching into her locked box and removing her most prised possession.
After a last look about the room, she left it for the boy to clean up, pausing only to dim the mage lights before stepping carefully down the circular staircase and reaching for the door key.
Stepping outside, she paused to turn and lock the door before turning to face the small crowd.
Standing amongst them, grinning like a ferret, one man began to read loudly. She begged him halt, then looked at him. LInus Hockingscript was a pirate, wanted in several lands for his adulterations of well-known manuscripts, which he sometimes successfully passed off as original works.
"Have not I warned thee not to darken my doorstep, Master Thief?"
He began to protest, speaking again from the now snow covered pages, upon which she could see clearly his careless scribbling.
Redo Fphen sighed, then reached into the soft, supple, golden leather pouch at her waist and drew her Smith&Wesson bolt action quill and dropped in a cartridge.
Too late, Linus looked up from the pages to see her take aim. He tried to make a hasty 'exit, stage left' but instead fell though the black hole she'd quickly inked in his path.
Returning the weapon to her pouch, she looked upon the now withdrawing crowd.
"Get thee gone, for it is Christmas Eve, and I am of no mind to suffer fools this night. Next time, make an appointment."
With that, she strode off, stopping to roll up the black hole, lest someone else step in it.
Reaching the doors of the Pig, she calmed as she heard those within laughing and listening to the Carols of Christmas sing their latest hit tunes. Inside, she felt the warmth envelope her as she made her way to the bar.
Will 'Shakes' Spearion, the owner, gave her a friendly wave and slid a cold pint into her hands before pointing her toward a table by the fire. She hesitated, as one of the chairs was already occupied, but continued on when she saw him to be an old friend.
"Greetings of the season, Red, "said The Shadow, raising his glass in a toast.
A turn of the glass passed quickly as other friends wandered by to speak their greetings while Yancy 'Yellin' Yolan, an orator of dubious repute stood in the corner, trying to convince others that the noise he'd heard on his roof the past Christmas Eve was the great man himself... and not, as all well knew, a couple of drunks trying to get into the wrong house.
All was going well until just a quarter of the hour of midnight. Red was shooting darts against a pair 'o docs from the local E.R. when the front door of The Pig slammed open and the blowing snow followed three darkly dressed strangers in from the night.
Red turned to look and blanched white as snow the moment she saw them.
These were outlaws of the worst sort, wanted by the crown for unimaginable crimes of heresy.
Will chose that moment to sidle over to her. "I want no trouble in here. Those witches last year were bad enough."
Redo shook her head.
"This is much worse," was all she could utter.
She knew them, only too well. She had avoided being implicated for her involvement with them years before. The last thing she needed now was to be identified in public by one of them.
At the very least it would mean the end of her career. She'd be back-listed by the guilds for the rest of her life. At the worst, the crown would put her away for a very long time.
Taking care to seem as if she were heading to the W.C., she slipped her cloak off the back of the chair and headed toward the rear of the pub.
'Shakes' caught up with her just at the door.
"Who are they, Red?"
"The worst kind, Will."
As she slipped outside, she turned to face him.