Lockette, hearing the indignant meow of a cat - deep for a cat... maybe Bathtub? - and hearing the rich boy shouting about Quill's business to the whole square, sighs deeply. She... should say something. Tell him to pipe the fuck down and relax. But the reality of making herself Known gave her hives. She pinches the bridge of her nose. She's not going to deal with the rich boy and the fucking bard that enchanted her; even though it was by far not the most violent or painful spell she'd been put under, there was something about opening that sort of can of worms that made Lockette crave the sweet embrace of going into the Fairy Forest and becoming moss.
Instead, she approaches where she heard Bathtub, crouching down to scoop the cat she often fed and allowed to lounge around her house, scritching behind his ears as she often did. She becomes aware of someone with Bathtub, another stranger - tourism must be fucking booming to run into two new people in a single day - and blinks slowly, her eyelids uncomfortably dry against her glass eyes as she is confronted with her second human interaction of the day. Today needed to go in the fucking trash.
Riley froze up as Lockette rounded on her, her mind grinding to a halt. Giant.
This was understandable because Lockette was in fact very much her type.
"I dropped him to the ground, you know, like a cat?" She said, thinking about how she could climb lockette like a tree. No a damn mountain. "As one does?" she added, "You know." How was she so handsome. "He just failed to cat I guess. Is he alright?" This is how I die. "He looks alright. Just his ego."
She paused for a long moment as Lockette said nothing and blinked at her.
Cathal picked himself up and shook off, and was about to stalk off when Lockette scooped him. He wiggled against her chest and turned to see Riley's face, and then grinned smugly. Oh, she was twitter patted! He couldn't really be mad at her, for thinking he was a cat. He looked like one, after all. She didn't know. He settled heavily in Lockette's arms and started purring again.
There's a long pause, because usually Lockette is the trainwreck in a conversation. Lockette hangs her head, curly hair falling into useless eyes as she pets under Bathtub's chin, "Good to know that if you ever carried someone, you'd drop them dead on their ass." Lockette drawls as pets Bathtub, checking his legs with her hands to make sure his meow was just due to being dropped like a sack of potatoes, rather than actual harm, "He's fine. He's a good, sturdy man. But throwing him on the ground seems a little uncalled for. Ain't that right, Bathtub?"
Lockette adjusts her hold on Bathtub, giving him the freedom to stay cradled in her arms or climb up to sprawl across her shoulders, "You're not from here," Lockette says. It should be a question, but it's not. "I've lived here for years and never heard your voice."
"I didn't throw him," She complained but sighed and let it go. She made a face, a guilty one, as lockette announced that she was new to town. She was glad that Lockette couldn't see the face journey she was having just that moment. "I was born here. I mean my parents are from here. I've just returned. I think."
Unideal. That's what Lockette called this woman having no concept of when she had last been here. Un-fucking ideal.
"Well. Yeah. I don't think you've been here long. Since I dunno who you are. I've lived here close to three years and never met you. Didn't hear you last time I came into town a month ago. Do the math."
Cathal climbed up on Lockette's shoulders. Most people, he found, were too small for all of him on their shoulders, but Lockette was just right. He curled around her neck like a mink sole, his tail curled down and twitching, and then turned his attention back to Molly. The trouble was going to be figuring out how to convince anyone that he needed magic done on him. He kneaded his paws into Lockette's shoulder thoughtfully.
“Wait. Did what during dancing?” At first Molly wasn’t sure she’d heard right, but her attention was caught by a yelp that sounded weirdly catlike. She peered around the worried stranger and saw, several feet away, the big orange cat from before dusting itself off.
Concerned, she spaced out from the present conversation, wondering if she should go see what had startled the cat so. And then the tallest person she’d ever seen in her life approached it, talking to the woman who Molly remembered noticing at the fountain.
The tall woman picked up the cat and let it climb up on her shoulders. Despite the fact that she was staring, which was probably rude, Molly was surprised when the cat made eye contact with her (saying something for how high up it was now). She looked over her shoulder, expecting someone had come up behind her, but there was no one.
On turning back, the cat was still looking her way, kneading the shoulder of the woman carrying him. She couldn’t help but grin, and sheepishly gave the cat a little wave.
Molly looked up at him, and Bathtub made direct eye contact with her from across the square. He gave her a big, catty grin, that he was sure she couldn't see. And when she waved at him he grinned even wider and sat up a little, resting all his weight on one foreleg crossed over Lockette's shoulder, to wave back at Molly with the other paw.
The woman in the scarlet coat tried to hide herself and the guitar. But the pretty, flimsy hem of her calico skirt peeked out from behind her companion's starched trousers and a bevy of root vegetables spilling out of a woven basket. At least she had the presence of mind to stand and meet his eyes when she replied to his request.
He really would have liked to prettily wax on how much he appreciated her sympathy or at least her decision to not side-eye him as though he were mad or addled. Sympathy, however, would not find Quill. It would also not undo whatever made them go away.
The closeness of the guitar, even when she wasn't carrying it like an extension of her limbs, was a tell, but the sheepish wringing of her hands sealed his suspicion. Apollo knew she was the one who made, out of an ordinary guitar, alluring and beautiful music that literally compelled people. If he had half the ability this lady-bard did, he'd have the Court of Royes dancing like they were in their cups and parceling out swathes of coastline and verdant fields for him. Ah, if only.
"Bard. You are a bard, aren't you?"
He gave the woman with the guitar a look that made clear he wouldn't let her get away with even a fib.
"Very well then, I shall draw my friend for you, Ms. Bard. Consider it payment for your delightful, albeit ill timed, musical service."
For a moment, Apollo shut his eyes and steepled his hands, soaking in every detail he had observed about Quill since the two met. He refined the image in his mind's eye with the bittersweet memory of today.
He opened his eyes, distant despite their blazing blue focus. A bead of soft, lilac-colored light collected upon his fingertip as he pulled apart his hands. With said fingertip, he sketched Quill's features in light as though the air itself was his canvas. Though he didn't intend to, he "painted" Quill's face in mid-laugh.
Apollo shuddered from the inside-out. It took far more blinking than it should have to reset his focus away from the illusory drawing.
The shirtless man - who, upon closer examination, had a pool of blue-black hair Pol would have loved to paint - corrected Pol on his origins. How could Pol have missed such stunning features in the past month or so he had spent in town. Port of Pearls could not be so large this lad went unnoticed by everyone. Perhaps he was a hermit. Dwelling on the outskirts, only strolling into downtown, such as it is, for a notable event. Or, when compelled by a bard.
Apollo was about to explain that whether one is or is not local only mattered to him in the sense of how well they knew Quill or where he might be. He was about to apologize for the unintended offense and ask what he could do to make it right. However.
That man accused Apollo of magicking his own friend into mist. Why ever would he commit such an unspeakable magical act to his only friend in this provincial and unfamiliar town?
He didn't know whether to be shocked or enraged. By all rights, he probably should be both. Quill would probably have something cleverly cutting to say in this situation. But the future comte was not them, could not find that chord in his voice. Pol huffed, his face coloring in the way one does when it holds too many strong emotions at once.
He said, in a way that made it clear, if he could, he would sooner turn to mist himself than actually apologize to that man now, "I beg your pardon?"
“Uhh… yes? I guess I am a bard?” Molly struggled to draw her attention back from the cat across the square. “I usually just think of myself as a singer, but um, sure. My name’s Molly: Molly Sill.”
The comment of the ill-timing of her performance, however, melted away her smile and replaced it with a deep pink flush. Suddenly all the little scars and scratches on her chin and cheeks stuck out in stark pale contrast.
She watched with amazement as the stranger, with a magic of his own, actually drew in the air a portrait of the missing friend. Even without seeing the pain in his expression, the love with which the picture was rendered made the urgency of his search quite apparent.
“Oh, my stars,” she breathed, taking it in. “This is- this is so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Yes, Molly thought, she had seen this person around- but not that day. She struggled to meet the magician’s eyes. “Thank you so much for showing us. I’m very sorry to say though, I don’t think I’ve seen them since my first day in town. They... they own a shop here, right?”
She sensed tension between the magician and the man she’d been talking to before, and her heart started to race. Molly glanced back and forth between them, hoping she was imagining it- she knew she tended to read people as more upset with her than they really were sometimes. A quick thought darted through her head: God, I don’t remember the last time I’ve been this stressed so many times in one day.
Apollonius helped himself into a real spot of trouble, asking for help from these strangers. He should have just walked straight back to their shop and sorted the herbs and triple-checked the til and boiled himself water for a weak tea.
Quill might just be fanning themself in some shady nook. Maybe they had simply gotten overheated. Maybe they would come back for supper in much the same way they left the market.
Still, it felt incredibly wrong to not know why they left in the first place.Knowledge was a wizard's true weapon, and wizards didn't get where they are today by contenting themselves with maybe-flavored hopes. Even if it was convenient to hope that someone in town could be agreeable enough to help him find Quill. So far, this hope wasn't panning out.
"I said what I saw, and what I saw, I saw." The bare shirted man stated, an edge to his voice.
Apollo cradled his temple in his palms. Of course the superstitions of the local townspeople would blame him for this mishap. Ugh, these bumpkins and their wild notions gave him a headache sometimes. If only he had his books, he could show them all exactly how wrong they were about their conventions and expectations of magic. Stupid sodding ocean.
"I don't discount what you believe you saw, young man - the mist and subsequent evaporation. But to claim I have done such a harm...is not only the height of slander-"
As the shirtless man tensed and puffed himself up, Pol took one small step forward. He wasn't going to give ground to this upstart.
"-and probably also treason, if my legal counsel has anything to say of it-"
The shirtless man blinked at him blankly. Surely a mendicant would be learned enough to know something of law. Perhaps he was really more of a common sort found in this village: a farmhand or boatswain on a rare idyll.
"for a wizard-in-study like myself to accomplish, it is not possible. To sublimate solid mass, let alone a living being, in an instant - it is a far more rare magic than the luminary arts."
The bare chested man appeared to size Apollo up and find him lacking. The former grumbled, "Hmph. What do you know, anyway, about magic?"
Remembering the praise of Molly the bard buoyed his spirits just enough to not throttle the impudent whelp who couldn't be bothered to put a shirt on, yet dared to speak lowly of his betters, in front of her. As much as he appreciated his ego stroked once in a while, the difference between the now-fading luminary portrait and what that man accused him of was a chasm. This, as much as it irked Apollo, was a point in his defense. He ought to use whatever he could in his defense before this situation turned into a different fairy story. Before the town formed a mob armed with pitchforks and billhook-poles.
"I know well enough to practice, which you witnessed, and that my practice doesn't cover the scope of what you suggest. I cannot do something I do not know how to do, anymore than Miss Sill here can create a drawing like mine."
A drawing that didn't exist anymore. Art that would never last for more than a fragment of the day. The only reason why Pol had gotten so talented at this type of illusion was because he kept trying to redraw portraits to keep them in their still, suspended life. Until he realized, of course, no amount of exertion or revision could make his images permanent.
"If you didn't realize that from the start, then what does the likes of you even know about magic?"
"Illusion isn't true magic," his one-time tutor said long ago, to crush boy-Apollo's dreams, "just flash and ephemera that makes no lasting changes. Illusion neither makes nor unmakes facts. Light shows don't save withering crops, boy."
Make facts. Light wouldn't save him, but the studious memory from hours of recalling the features of his luminary portraits might. As he spoke, he skimmed the contents of the day prior to Quill's disappearance.
"A second point of fact: I was the only one intent on going to market today. Quill wouldn't have been here if not for the music. They would have been manning the shop they are a proprietor of, as Miss Sill correctly remembered."
Apollo spun on his heels, the friction audible by a soft scrape of his slipper soles on the marketplace pavers. He spied Lockette by the fountain, arms occupied by a fluffy ginger cat. But such an encumbrance was alright with him. If all went well, he would only need her presence and her voice. Oh what a help and fortune!
"Miss Lockette here can attest, as a witness, that Quill asked of me to run to market while she was doing business in their shop. She purchased lavender and mint but is still in want of parsley because Quill doesn't stock the herb. Isn't that right, Lockette?"
Lockette tilts her head as she is called, and her lip curls to be referred to as 'Miss'. She reaches up to pet Bathtub's head, just to keep her hands too occupied to smack the shit out of Quill's roommate. Murmuring a low 'excuse me' to the woman she was speaking with, Lockette turns to the man, her scowl enough to make a lesser person cower as she stalks towards Apollo, "I've got about four issues with that. First of all, you presume a lot to refer to me as Miss. I'm not a woman. Second, I can't witness anything. Are you blind, too? Fucking look at me. Third, I specifically asked you not to go running off in search of parsley, because I bet you wouldn't be able to differentiate it from a strain of hemlock that is almost identical, but profoundly poisonous. Fourth of all, did it occur to you, at any point since you started to shout throughout the market square like a fucking madman, that you are fundamentally violating a secret that Quill may not want to be shared?"
She grips him by his arms, ducking her head down to him and speaking in a quiet hiss, "Quill has been cursed. By who and for what, I don't know, but even if I did know, it would hardly be any of your business. When they feel strong emotions, they puff into mist. They will reform when the air cools at dusk. Meanwhile, you would do well to return to the shop and stop running your mouth about Quill's personal affairs. Many people in Royesland have come here to live quiet lives after their wars, and you are decidedly failing to do the bare minimum of keeping the secrets of your roommate to yourself."
For his part, Apollo was thoroughly chastened to find out he had misspoke with regard to Lockette. He took a name for a hint, forgetting entirely while he was back in the country of his birth, nothing could be taken as so in the region where he lived as a boy. He did flinch away, with shame more than anything.
But when Lockette told him to look at them, he looked and saw the ruin of their eyes for what it was and understood why they bumped into him at Quill's shop. He could have argued the middle parts of their statement with technical points, sure. But by the time Lockette mentioned the secret, Pol had lost all desire to debate over anything.
Despite his hitched breath, Apollo wasn't so naive to think Quill completely devoid of secrets. He simply never considered Quill's secrets to involve anything so bizarre as disappearing all at once. Never anything so magically inclined. He flushed with shame.
"I didn't know," he squeaked a whisper, "Quill never told me."
Lockette gripped his arm right where his sleeves were thinnest and dragged him towards the other side of the fountain. Pol used this opportunity to make a big production of it, as you do, and stumbled just enough so his face was behind the fountain statue. A character in a court intrigue novel he once read had an uncanny knack for reading the lips of others in line of sight. Since this was Quill's secret to protect, Pol wasn't taking any chances.
"Owwowowow, you're hurting me! I was just trying to clear my name-"
He stilled significantly, tuning into the details of Quill's disappearance and trying to avoid the unsettling stare of the ginger cat, third confidante to Quill's secret. The more he heard, the more he wilted.
"Oh no," Pol whispered, his voice taking on a shaky sort of quavering that belied his youth, "So I really am to blame. Oh, if I had known. Or if I had thought on how Quill might feel instead of the hundred other occupations of my mind. I fear I have been a silly fool, Lockette. You have every right not to accept my apology, but, I'm sorry I made such a wretched mistake. At least Quil will come back. At least I can apologize to them later."
The ginger cat, closer now to his face than he was Lockette's slid his eyes over Apollo's shoulder without to much as a blink. Whatever was that cat goggling so? Creepy. At least the cat could be counted on not to spill any secrets.
Secure in the knowledge that Quill had and will come back Apollo drew himself up to a proper posture. He allowed himself a breath before a bit of further softspoken humbling:
"Well, ahm, thank you for looking out for Quill. I am glad you did a better job of it than I did today. I'm sure they will be too. I promise I won't pick any poisonous herbs. Or burn down the shop. Or bother anyone else in town."
Exiting the shadow of the marketplace fountain, Apollo proclaimed to the assembled townspeople, chin tilted at its usual imperious angle, "Seeing as the sun stops for no earthly body...I have business to attend to. Good Day."
Apollo strolled at a leisurely pace to the tea shoppe, deciding the next business he might do. He could put a fire on for a cup of weak tea. But if he started soon, he might be able to boil a cold supper for Quill to have once he returned. That might mend a little bit of the damage Pol had done with the mist business.
He wouldn't keep the fire on tonight like he normally would. Perhaps a cooler building would increase the chances of Quill reforming inside the shoppe, where they could change back into the dress he would lay out on their bed, smoothed of wrinkles from traveling in the basket.
And in the meantime, Pol could shelf any loose herbs left over from the daily picking and packing. To round out the day's work, he would sweep the shop floors with the twiggy broom leftover from when the shop belonged to the coopers. Apollo wouldn't check the til. He could do sums in his sleep - thank you, Mother - but handling money would be in poor taste now.
Just in case none of this was enough to soothe Quill, after he closed up shop, Pol considered he ought to pack up what little kit he amassed from his month and a half in town and fix the rumpled dressings of his bed.
Tuesday watched Lockette haul Apollo off bodily and burst out laughing. There was nothing he loved more than riling up defensive wizards- he was magpie afterall and he would and could bring lite matches into his home and pull at the tail feathers of eagles. That was just his nature. He gave molly a big grin and seemed very pleased with himself.
"Oh, shame he's about to die, I rather liked him. I can't believe he asked ME what I know about magic. Incredible. stunning. amazing." he continued to mutter superlatives sarcastically around a bite of apple.
Riley had sputtered on a good answer. It was very un-ideal and she had no idea how to navigate it. No idea if she should ask for help or how or what she even needed. So as soon as lockette's attention was derailed she fled. Making her way through the market and towards the bridge that would take her home.
Quill was cursed too? Cathal wasn't sure how that information could help him yet, but he filed it away for later use. He peered around the square, and back at Molly and her new friend, who was declaiming animatedly around an apple. He looked familiar, and Cathal squinted.
He knew that voice, didn't he?
And then it clicked, and Cathal stood up on Lockette's shoulders. That was the fairy fucking king, in pants!
Cathal had seen him man-shaped before, but but that still usually involved a lot of claws and beaks and feathers. And he wasn't awful, or mean, but he did like to play pranks on Thomas, and annoy him. Cathal kneaded his paws in Lockette's shoulder again before hopping down and going over to investigate the King of Magpies.
The towering Lockette with their cat scarf, a little over one foot taller than Molly, dragged the wizard off toward the fountain, where the two spoke in hushed tones. As such, the other man’s sharp laugh was unexpected and actually made her jump.
“That’s…” Molly normally tried to choose her words carefully with strangers, when she spoke at all. Although she didn’t think- she hoped, anyway- there was no actual malice in his tone, the wizard and his disappearing friend had her sympathy. She tried again, a little louder. “That’s not very nice. Come on, he’s really upset. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.”
She’d tried to avoid even looking toward the fountain, much less trying to hear what they were saying. Molly knew what it meant to have secrets, and keeping them was sacred to her. A glance, however, showed whatever berating Lockette had given him had the wizard looking even lower than before. “Aw, see? Poor guy.. I liked him too. I hope everything works out okay.
“So. You know a lot about magic, huh? More than a wizard?” she asked in a joking tone of voice, then decided that was rude. “I didn’t catch your name! Sorry for not asking sooner." She smiled and forced herself to meet his eyes at least for a second. Starting to raise her left hand before switching to the right, she held it out to him in offer of a handshake. "Exciting town you have here! But it's a wonderful place from what I've seen so far."
"Not very nice? not very nice?" Tuesday said, having a heavy case of bird like echolocalia, "I said I liked him didn't I? But his hubris, Molly Sills is as big as the moon. You have the good descency to call me friend and ask my opinion and even my name.; wich you may call Tuesday if it pleases you heart. And I do know very much about magics thankyou. But He! He is a wizard without manners, that trusts his eyes so much as to mistake a king for a pauper? No sense or manners in him, or any wizard, though I have yet to met a wizard with manners, so perhaps the magic sits inside them in a similar place as to push it out. I've known more than a wizard does since before this town was built. They're all words words words. 'To sublimate solid mass, let alone a living being, in an instant -'" He mimicked in a fair impersonation of Pol. "Wizards think too much. But are also unfortunatly very clever, so he'll probably be fine. Please do not fret, your much too charming to be taken by that particular emotion, I'm sure he'll make do. And I am certain that we will make do," he said gesturing at the bounty she had accumulated, "Port of hte pearsl is the best and most generous village in my kingdom and I do hope it pleases you."
The waterfall of words apparently spent, Molly stared, hand still extended.
After a beat, she kept staring.
And then she stared at him a little longer.
Finally, her face twisted up in the most genuine smile she'd had all day, and she laughed. Though it was a short laugh, it bubbled up from deep within her. She withdrew her hand in order to wipe a tear from one eye.
"You know, you're so right," Molly chuckled. "Someone very wise once told me you can never trust a wizard." Little giggles still escaping, she rubbed her eyes. This time she found it easier to look him in the face, and said warmly, "Tuesday, it is so very much a pleasure to meet you."
The pieces, she thought, had come together: mentions of court, kingdom, and Tuesday's lofty opinion of himself. Molly actually had met a prince or two in her time. While he was probably the most eccentric (wandering around in public in just his trousers, mistaking onions for apples) he was also leaps and bounds more likeable than any previous royalty she'd encountered. She gathered her skirt and executed a move that was half a bow, half a sloppy curtsy. "And the Port of Pearls is nearly as wonderful. I'm… it's been quite a day, but you know? I'm still happy to be here.
"My goodness, though, you're right about generous," Molly said, although she knew the goods surrounding them were just as much a result of her own actions (even if not intentionally). "I can't possibly use all of this, and I don't have anyplace to put it. Is there, like… a local charity I can take some of it to? Or…" She looked back out around the market. "Maybe that sad wizard could use some cheering up. And I could thank Lockette for their help. Hm. Hey, is there any parsley in here?"
All else in the world was forgotten, however, when Lockette's big orange cat appeared, nudging at her shin in greeting. Molly's delighted gasp echoed around the square. "Well hello, lovely!" She offered her fingers for the cat to investigate; once approved, she knelt down and started petting it in earnest. "I'm so happy to meet you, too. Gosh, you're just the prettiest cat I've ever seen!"
She grinned up at Tuesday. "Would you believe my hair was almost as bright as this when I was a little girl? Obviously it's faded now." Molly scratched the cat's chin. "We would've been twins back then!"
For a moment Molly's absolute joy at meeting him was enough to distract Cathal from his quiet fury at what Tuesday had said about wizards. He wasn't really talking about Pol. He was talking about Tom. But pets were very good, so he purred and rubbed on Molly for a moment, before remembering and looking up a Tuesday, giving him a stink eye.
If he had had a voice box he would have said, "What are you doing here?" or "Where's Tom?" or even "Stop flirting with mortal girls you don't intend to keep," but he was a cat, so all he did was meow indignantly at the King of Magpies instead.
"Very Wise indeed, Wizards are trouble," he told her firmly. He smiled at her curtsy which pleased him greatly. He wished for nothing more than return home (Oh he had wanted that for several days now) but now with Molly Sills in tow. She would be a marvel to his court, charming and authentic and talented. He listened intently to her and looking around at all their plunder asked; "Maybe we could give it back? Are there any rules against that? So many rules. None of them good. None of them written." It was perhaps the first sensible thing he had said as a man. He was watching Molly with all of his attention as she spoke so the cat took him a bit by surprise. It was quite a thing to hear an full grown man attempt to make the alarmed grackle of corvid but some how he managed it. He Squinted at Bathtub and looked even more displeased after closer inspection.
"Terrible," He said. And then paused, afraid he had misspoke (Something he'd never worried about before.) "Not your hair. You're hair is lovely, larklet. The Cat. I'm not a fan. Especially. That cat."
Cathal grinned up at Tuesday and strolled over to him. The feeling of dislike was mutual, and he informed Tuesday of that fact by climbing into his lap and kneading his paws into Tuesday's thigh, claws extended.
Tuesday's bird brain broke freezeing up and flailing at once, ending with him uncerimounously hucking the 20 pound cat with a shriek. He stumbled up to his feet and tossed the first thing he got in his hands, and aple (an actual apple mind you) and threw it after the cat. First of all that had hurt. He was not at familiar with mortal pain and he had not liked it one bit at all. Second of all. SECOND OF ALL. He had a healthy fear of cats having been once mauled near to death by one long before he was king of anything or much more than a mortal magpie.
"Fuck you cat!"
Heads turned at the market. Bathtub was a beloved member of society.
"Fuck that cat in particular!!!"
This time, Cathal had been prepared for the possibility of being thrown, so he landed with much more grace. He turned and looked at Tuesday with a smirk and a smug tail twitch before scampering back to Molly, meowing pitifully at her as if he was utterly wounded by this shocking, unasked for betrayal.