The aristocratic coterie padded the twisting rain-slick cobblestones of Ersentwyer, nattering beneath gaudy paper parasols as disjointed crowds of performers, merchants, day laborers and vagrants moved about them like minnows round the smooth-hewn rocks of a rambunctious stream.

“Now I’ve a proper clarity of thy fresh attire,” Aldwyn Blythe declared, taking in Oeric Adair’s onyx feathered overcoat, “I must remark upon its extraordinary character.”

Oeric nodded, bemused.

“Outlandish, isn’t it?”

“I should say! Thou wert never so coxcomb. Wherefore this downy curiosity?”

He paused and adjusted the curious garb with wry amusement, feet shifting nervously over the scuffed and gamol folde, “It was gifted to me by Cerelia,” Oeric Adair responded with a sigh, casting his hands up into the air, as if dispensing grim confetti, “Its style wars dreadfully with my own, but how could I decline? Especially when our wedding wends so near? Imagine her reaction were I to pawn it; to say nothing of what the other Wealdmaer’s would think. Merely forgoing its flagrant display might prove sufficient to prompt an unseemly reaction; and so I’m featherbound; fated to foppish plume; gaoled in tufted geomor.”

“Wise it were. Had thou peddled it, she’d have cawed louder than the beasts from which it were fashioned,” All the men laughed boisterously, save for Adair, whose visage grew increasingly glum.

Edlin Boyce continued with a wide, mischevious smile, “Worse, that old codger Grædig would use it as yet another reason to declare thee unfit to agan his fruit.”

“Such churlishness ill-attests thy station.” Adair snapped dourly, crossing his arms and looking off towards the old theatre at the far northern end of the thoroughfare.

“Let him perturb thee not; I think it wonderful,” Bullard Kyne responded, moving to stride in tandem with the other men, “Mayhaps, if the other members of our circle had greater familiarity with the fairer sex, they would understand it is not the thing itself that is important in a gift, but the sentiment with which it is selected.”

“Aye. Well said. For my dear Cerelia, I would bare the burden of every feather in the world!”

Even Boyce could not help but smile at that. Shortly thereafter, the four men moved past a series of stalls whose ferverous throng had overflown into the central thoroughfare and there vanished into the crowd.

*

A man watched the aristocrats at a distance, his garb drab, hair long, gray and ill-kept, his manner martial, yet ferine. He looked down at the sketch of his target with cold eyes, and then again to the man in the corvine coat.

An exact match.

The stalker smiled and folded the parchment back up and slid it into his dusty coat pocket.

“Enjoy thy frivolity, Oeric Adair, whilst yet it is afforded thee.”

*


Continued in §.02.

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