The young Herald grimaced with distaste as she tugged at her bodice until the hem met with the top of her skirt and looked into the cheap piece of tin that she carried as a mirror to apply makeup. It took a far heavier hand than she would have used if she had been wearing her Whites, but then Whites would not be particular welcome with the sort of clientèle who frequented the tavern.

If they were, I might have come back with fewer bruises last time. No wonder Balin was so angry. I guess I should be grateful it is a tavern and not an inn. Even the thought of what that could have meant made her shiver.

With a sigh, she tucked her flute into the loop in her costume designed for it with one last look in the mirror. No one would recognize the rather plain looking Herald Callie in the flamboyant dancing girl who was reflected in the mirror. Which was rather the point. After all, as much as the custom here would object to knowing that they were being watched by a Herald, the Heralds themselves would have thrown twice the fit if they knew that any Herald, let alone one who was barely in full Whites like Callie, was playing the part of a dancing girl in one of the most disreputable taverns in the craftsman quarter of Haven.

More, if they knew just what that actually entailed! Callie thought grimly. Which is why I am flying without a net on this one. I would shock their delicate sensibilities if anyone had to rescue me from here. Not to mention blowing my cover so thoroughly that it would put me and anyone around me in danger.

As she made her way to the common room, making sure that the filmy layers of her skirt flounced to show more than she would have liked, she let meek little Callie Barker, Herald of Valdemar slide away, replaced instead by what was left of Lecallyine Golsa, the precocious little child thrall she had been now seemingly grown into something a little more polished than the typical tupenny whore from Exile's Gate.

But times like now make me wish that I could!

***

Kerowyn sighed as she finished off the last of her dinner, scanning the crowd briefly. There was no sign of the child procurer who had brought her out tonight. Hopefully Alberich had better luck searching the taverns where he was at. She hated the idea of that sort of scum on the streets, and drank deeply from her glass of stout ale to clean the taste from her mouth. Not that she had not drunk worse when leading the Skybolts, but the stuff was still strong enough to cut through paint. She heard the murmuring of the other bar patrons as they caught sight of the pretty little thing who came out. She was wearing the sort of filmy skirt and low cut bodice that gave her trade away pretty clearly, even without the heavily made up face and patently darkened hair. She was also of age.

Barely.

The girl did dance beautifully though. And not just the lewd licentious dancing that one expected from a tavern girl, but once or twice she even danced a court dance with some of the men who paid a bit more for such services. And during her breaks, she did not stop, but rather sat cross-legged on a barrel in the corner and played along with the raucous melodies that the fiddler through her.

Caught no hare this night have I, merely a bullyboy put away and into the hands of the Guard. To the salle, I shall be heading. Speak more we shall when you return.

Kero sighed as she watched the girl finish the last rather daring pirouette and paid her tab. Alberich was probably right. The tavern was close to closing if the girl had finished, and she was the closest that either of them had gotten to any lead on the whoremaster.

Still, it took years to learn the sort of dancing the girl had done. And if she was just past sixteen now …

Actually, go to the barracks instead. I think I might have found a little song-sparrow who knows a thing or two of this. I'm going to try and catch her. Shouldn't be hard to make it look as if she was robbing a sell-sword.

She made her way to leave and waited in a corner against the wall of the building. The girl might be the best chance they had. And even if the little song-sparrow didn't know anything, well, it might be tasty bait for the sort of creature they were hunting.

***

Callie felt tired and filthy as she began to walk towards the open stables where Balin hid himself on her escapades. She caught a glimpse of shadow as the figure moved from where they had been lurking along the building to follow her. Fighting to keep from breaking out in a run, she sped up a bit, pulling her cloak tighter, shivering in spite of the warm summer air. It was not merely fear that caused that reaction, but also the fact it was damned cold out here compared to the heat of the tavern after dancing in the way that Lecallyine did. Even years of practice like she had had before her breasts began to bud and she had the nerve to take up a job as the frightened little card-sharping tavern wench that Balin had Chosen from three doors past the Virgin and Stars could not change the fact it was damned hard work to dance like that.

She could actually see the stable light when the hand clapped over her mouth and her follower struck, laying her flat on the ground with a sword pressed against her back. Feeling the edge of the blade, Callie quit struggling, fighting back screams and tears that were rising to the surface as she heard the sound of a heavy coin bag being pulled loose.

If things get bad, Balin will come rescue me. Callie repeated, fervently hoping that the Companion would be able to reach her in time. Her lip felt as if it had been cut during the fall, and the taste of her blood kept her from thinking too much of what the sword at her back could mean.

And then she did not think of it at all as the sound of a Guard whistle broke the night and she found herself and the sell-sword who had attacker her being hauled to their feet and dragged off to the barracks.