"A half truth is a whole lie, Master Hirum," Livia said sternly. "You realise that, right?"
She looked at him steadily as he scratched at an itch in his nose, then narrowed his eyes at her.
"Are you trying to insinuate that I'm lying, Miss… I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
She smiled at the condescension in his tone. "You know exactly what my name is, Master Hirum. Did you know that when men lie, their nose itches? I could tell you the million other giveaways, but that would just be wasting more of my time. You are a liar and a cheat, Master Hirum, and there is no way my mother is dealing with you. The agreement is off."
Hirum's face immediately turned ugly, and a few of his cronies stepped forward.
"Look, girlie, this is my agreement – I've been patient enough to tell you all the ins and outs because you're Marcia's daughter, but this is where my generosity ends. I am not lying about anything I said."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You see, that there is a lie. Oh, you were truthful about part of it, but that crap about your men never hurting one of the girls? Lies," she stated flatly. "So thank you for your time, but I think Marcia will go to someone else for bouncers."
And with that, she turned and walked out before any of them could stop her. She quickly walked out of sight before she let herself sag. Sometimes, her mouth ran away with her. And most of the time that led to a great deal of trouble. Actually, being sent to Hirum to discover if he was trustworthy or not was the direct result of one of those times.
She hated being asked to find out if someone was lying or not and her mother, unlike her father, understood that and never asked. Except today, Marcia was desperate and decided that this would be a suitable punishment.
She glanced down, grimacing – this ridiculously expensive dress was also part of the deal. Marcia had carefully explained to Livia that her usual pants and shirt combo wouldn't cut it. And, somehow, had forced her into this overly elegant creation which didn't suit Livia's manly walk at all. She sometimes wondered how she was related to Marcia at all, let alone be her daughter. Marcia, despite entering her fifties last year, was still one of the most beautiful women in Kalamis – which would make sense, as she was one of the city's most successful courtesans. With her flowing, long golden hair, porcelain skin and graceful poise, it was hard to connect her with Livia's short and scruffy blonde hair, and her terrible posture. While Marcia floated around and perched on her seat, Livia kicked up her feet and slouched back.
Sighing, Livia pushed her way through the crowds to a street vendor.
"Can I get a glass of juice?"
Livia watched as the man's eyes quickly ran over her, seeing her obviously expensive dress.
He smiled in a smarmy matter. "That'll be a gold coin, ma'am."
She rolled my eyes and fished out a few coppers. "That was a nice try – next time, try with something a bit smaller and closer to the true price."
The man looked put out as she exchanged the money for the cup of juice, but relented anyway. Livia sipped the juice – despite its strange purple colour, it was some of the best juice in Kalamis. She weaved her way through the crowds, thinking. She didn't particularly want to go back to her mother's place – it was above one of the many brothels Marcia owned, after all. Plus, Marcia would not be happy about losing Hirum's men. After opening up yet another brothel, Marcia needed some more bouncers and Hirum had seemed perfect. Except Livia had just discovered that he was not only a scammer, but a pervert as well. Due to this damn dress, Hirum had preferred to discuss the deal with her chest, rather than her face.
Suddenly, someone smashed into her shoulder, causing the bright purple juice to splash down her light coloured dress.
"Oh shit!" she cried, stepping back quickly and glaring at the man. In her annoyance, she barely considered his handsome appearance.
"I'm so sorry," he said, his eyes wide. His hands scrambled around and he pulled out a handkerchief. "Here, let me—"
Livia smiled wryly. "No, don't bother. It's ruined." Now that the initial shock was over, she scrutinised him. He was taller than her – although that wasn't hard – and had a lean, muscular body. Her eyes flew to the sword at his side – soldier. Black leather was wrapped around the sword's hilt, but Livia could still make out the golden etching. Her eyes rose – between that and the fairly heavy purse hanging at his side, he looked to be quite wealthy. Yet his clothes were non-descript and rather threadbare.
Almost as if he were trying to appear poor.
"Let me make it up to you," he said, smiling nervously. "Would you let me buy you lunch?"
He presented the façade of a chagrined man attracted to a woman fairly well, but Livia could see past that. He was attracted to her – she could see that in the way his hips were tilted towards her and his pupils dilated slightly – but that wasn't the reason for him inviting her to lunch. She could see clearly that he had an ulterior motive and she was intrigued.
So she smiled slowly and shrugged. "It couldn't hurt. This dress is already ruined, so it won't matter if you spill anything else on it over lunch."
To her satisfaction, he cringed.
"Well, I'm heading to a pub called the Burning Log – would you care to join me?"
His accent was polished and he spoke extremely well. Livia guessed he was some noble's son, dressed as a commoner for the thrill of it. As he chattered on, leading her down the busy street, she scrutinised him.
No, she decided, he wasn't doing this for some strange adrenaline rush. His posture was too rigid; his walk too determined. He was up to something and Livia couldn't wait to find out what it was.
"So, what did you say your name was?" he asked as they seated themselves down at the wooden table.
"I didn't give it," she replied, brushing her blonde fringe out of her face. She cursed the day she even thought it was a good idea to let one of Marcia's girls near her hair.
Rather than freezing up like he did before, his smile widened.
Damn. She'd hoped to be able to disgruntle him some more. But, hey, at least she was still getting a free meal and the chance to talk to a man that was attractive and not a regular at Marcia's brothels.
"Would you care to give it now?"
She raised an eyebrow at his suave tone. "Livia. Yours?"
He hesitated. "Julian."
Now that particular little tidbit was a lie. If he were telling the truth, his answer would have come straightaway and without hesitation. As fun as it would be to point out his lie, she didn't want to attract too much attention from this obviously noble man.
"So, Julian, what do you do for a living?"
His eyes narrowed slightly at her but she kept her face blank and her smile innocent. She even leant forward as if she were truly enraptured by this man in front of her. Sure, he ticked every box in the good looks department, but that meant next to nothing for her. His lies, like everyone else's, were apparent to her, and as soon as he found that out he would be running for the hills.
Just like everyone else.
This answer came more naturally. "I'm in the army."
Interesting. This was true.
"A soldier? How brave. Do you do much fighting or is it just watching the houses of fat, rich nobles?"
She watched him carefully and was pleasantly surprised when he didn't become defensive of the 'fat, rich nobles' that he obviously came from.
"Guard duty, mostly, but I do leave time for rescuing damsels in distress." He winked, making her snort.
"How very noble of you," she replied, sarcasm heavy in her tone.
He raised his eyebrows but didn't reply. "And what do you do?"
By this time, the innkeeper had placed a bowl of soup down in front of Livia but she didn't touch it.
A smirk leisurely curled her mouth.
"For starters, I'm the daughter of a prostitute."
She gained endless amounts of amusement from the way his eyes bulged as he choked on the mouthful of meat. He was genuinely shocked, through and through, and Livia enjoyed every minute of it. Call her a cynic, but it was rare for her to see true emotions these days.
"You-You're a whore?"
She frowned. "Now that's just rude. You assume that I followed in the footsteps of my dearest mother?" She paused. "Well, if everyone else were to see the world through your eyes, the King would also be a whore, right? Like mother like child."
Now she was testing him to see what type of noble he was.
"The King's mother isn't a whore," he said, his voice stern even though the crinkles at the side of his eyes gave away a slight amount of amusement.
Livia decided not to keep pushing her luck. She did, after all, want a free meal. She picked up her spoon and began eating.
"Each to his own," she murmured, glancing towards the door as it swung open. Her eyes widened in recognition as she saw Griffin step into the inn. She had grown up with Griffin and thus considered him a close friend. One of her only friends, actually – she'd sworn to him years ago that she wouldn't use anything she saw on his face against him. That was probably one of the only reasons their friendship had lasted this long.
She was about to smile and wave him over, but she paused, noticing Julian's reaction. His eyes immediately cut to him, narrowing in on the man as he made his way over to the bar.
Ah. So this was what the man was after. She took another spoonful of her soup while surreptitiously following his eyes as they flicked around the room.
She cursed when she realised what was going on. She couldn't believe that she hadn't seen it before – this 'Julian' fellow was good.
Scattered about the room where men who were obviously built and had swords strapped to their waist. They were separated and blended into the general atmosphere of the inn, yet each one either had their eyes focused on Griffin or Julian.
They could be the city guard. At worst, they were part of the Gytheum Guard. Either way, Livia's instincts screamed at her to get out now. But she couldn't knowingly leave Griffin here, alone, while vultures circled him. She pursed her lips, eyes narrowing in determination.
She'd never really cared much for authority anyway.
She stood up abruptly and walked a few steps before his hand latched onto her arm.
"Hey, where are you going?"
She let out a shocked cry, dredging up the tears to water her eyes. "Get your hands off me! Why can't you take no for an answer?!"
The innkeeper, a burly man, looked over with his brow drawn low. When he saw Julian restraining her, he stormed over.
Poor man, she thought. He truly had no idea what was going on, but it was either Griffin or he, and she'd chosen Griffin.
"What do you think you're doing?" the man growled, making Julian drop Livia's hand in alarm. "I'll have no man-handling of women in my house."
"No, sir, I don't think you understand—"
"I tried to tell him no but he began to threaten me!" she cried, making her eyes wide and afraid.
It worked like a charm. The man rounded on Julian and Livia managed to slip away into the crowd. A few of Julian's men stood up and started forward to help him as the innkeeper began to haul him out.
Time for stage two.
She slipped between two men, one of whom was an extremely drunk men and the other was one of Julian's soldiers. She then rammed her elbow into the drunken man's back before tapping the guard on his shoulder. She ducked away just as the two turned around and the man lunged at the guard, starting a brawl. Smiling, she didn't stop to observe her handiwork but slipped through the gathering crowd to grab Griffin by the arm, who was still sitting ignorantly at the bar.
"Livia?" he asked in surprise.
"Come on, I'll explain later," she hissed, dragging him outside. None of the civilian-dressed soldiers noticed as the two made their escape. Just as they were ducking into the crowd, Livia turned back and saw Justin, who had just been thrown into the gutter, stare at them and scramble to his feet, red-faced.
Livia cursed, before pulling him along behind her as she raced through the crowd. Finally, when they had put a good distance between them and the Burning Log, she slowed.
"What in the world was that, Livia?" Griffin demanded, squinting at her.
"They were soldiers, Griffin. Would you be so kind enough to tell me the reason why I just had to save your arse back there from the king's men?"
Griffin looked shocked for a moment before embarrassed. "I may or may not have tried to scam some high up noble?"
Livia rolled her eyes, letting out a breath irritably. "Well congratulations, you just got the whole army's wrath sent down to you."
He scoffed. "Oh, as if you've never done anything to a stuck-up noble in your life."
She grinned slowly and held up a pouch of gold, jingling it so he could hear what was inside.
"You could be right about that."
"You stole the man's money?" Griffin spluttered. "Livia!"
She shrugged, not feeling at all remorseful. "From the look of his sword, this is probably pocket change to him. Plus, he used me as a cover to look unsuspicious in that inn. How did they know you were going to be there anyway?"
"That's where I usually meet my clients – they must have been watching it after they got wind of that scam."
She punched him on the shoulder. "Well change your meeting place. I don't want to have to pull you out of any more sticky situations, okay? Now, I gotta go tell Marcia that the whole Hirum business fell through. I'll see you later."
Griffin gave her a short wave before jogging off to his flat, which was further into the derelict part of Kalamis than Marcia's house was. Livia pursed her lips – one day, that boy was going to get himself stuck in an even bigger mess and she wouldn't be around to clean up after him. She stepped into the house, nodding to the bouncer on the way past. Although it was technically open, most of the girls were lazing around, chatting amongst themselves or to the bartender. The room was actually quite lavish, and felt more like a lounge room than a brothel. Livia waved to a few of the girls before heading up the set of stairs and to Marcia's rooms.
Marcia glanced up as Livia entered the room, a pair of spectacles resting on the delicate bridge of her nose. She took one glance at Livia's ruined dress and carefully placed down her pen, leaning back slightly. She waited for Livia to speak.
Livia threw herself down into one of the chairs, tossing her leg over the arm of the chair. Marcia gave an obvious look of distaste, but Livia ignored her.
"Hirum was a scammer," she said frankly. "And a pervert. So I told him that the agreement was off."
"Well. That certainly makes things more difficult. What was he lying about?"
"When I asked him if any of his men had ever intentionally hurt one of the girls, and he lied. And then if he intended on stealing from you. And he lied."
Marcia nodded slowly. "I guess you were right, then. Now, how did you manage to sully that dress? I had to pay quite a bit for that."
Livia rolled her eyes. "Oh as if you actually paid him with coins. Some man managed to spill my cup of juice down my front in the marketplace." Suddenly, an idea occurred to her and she leant forwards. "You know most of the nobles, right?" At Marcia's smirk, she continued. "Well, I think I met one today. He's definitely in the army, but he holds enough rank to command a few soldiers. He's fairly handsome—"
"Fairly handsome?" Marcia said sceptically.
Livia scoffed. "Oh fine, he was extremely handsome. He had light brown hair and, despite being slightly attracted to me, was more focused on his job – so he's determined. Ring any bells?"
Marcia smiled slowly, reminding Livia of a cat who had caught her prey.
"So you're just upset that this man cares more about his work than you – oh, darling, if you just let me—"
"Mother, no," Livia cried. "I only care because I think he's going to come after me, and I need to know how far his connections reach."
"And why would he do that?"
Sighing, she tossed her mother the heavy purse, saying, "I took that. And his men and he were trying to arrest Griffin, so I had to get him out of there."
Marcia's face was, to Livia, unreadable. This disconcerted Livia, but she knew that the closer she got to people, the harder it was to read them. With people like her mother, Livia's emotions got in the way too much to make an accurate reading.
Finally, Marcia answered her. "What did he say his name was?"
"Julian. But he was lying."
Marcia nodded. "Well, you managed to snag the attention of the Commander of the Gytheum Guard."
Livia felt sick. "You mean Jasper Winthrop? As in, the adopted son of Primor Elijah Winthrop?"
"Yes, I am fairly sure. His family is one of the few that don't visit brothels – well, my brothels at least. But I've seen him at social events and he does seem quite charming. But of course, he'd have to be – he caught your eye after all."
Livia got to her feet, rolling her eyes. "Oh, come off it mother. You should have seen his face when I told him my mother was a prostitute – I half expected him to ask how much he should pay me."
Marcia winced. "Oh you didn't. Livia, I spent years teaching you proper etiquette and elegance, yet it seemed to go in one ear and out the other."
"I can be polite when I feel like it – which isn't often. Anyway, I'm going to go down and have a drink with the girls before they begin work. Don't miss me too much."
Livia gave her an over exaggerated wink before flouncing out of the room.
"And Livia!" Marcia called out after the girl. "Make sure to be seen at another brothel! I don't want the Gytheum Guard knocking down my door and disrupting my business looking for you."
Livia poked her head back around the door. "And, let me guess, if I do get caught here, you'll let them take me away for the fifteen minutes of fame it will give you."
Marcia looked at her daughter steadily, as if daring her to challenge the verity of her words. "Well I'm not going to deny that – you've escaped prisons before, you can do it again."
Livia narrowed her eyes at Marcia. "I'm going to go stir up another brothel, then."
"Good girl," Marcia said, her eyes glinting as she smiled then went back to the papers in front of her.
A/N: so this is the start of the story I was writing for nanowrimo – but then I got busy, and I stopped. So, I decided to put it up here to see what everyone thinks, and if you guys like it, I'll keep writing and posting.