“We have been in at least a dozen shops, Father, without finding anyone that knows of Simon or Leigha,” Robert griped wearily as the three men stopped in front of yet another mercantile. “Can we not go and find Gordon and Jesep now? Perhaps they have had some luck.”
Charles shook his head to his son’s request, noting the hunger in Robert’s eyes, not for news of Leigha but for the cool liquor that he could have at any of the bistros. He was certain that if they went to find Gordon and Jesep now, the rest of the evening would be wasted, for Robert would quickly become drunken and useless.
“We still have several shops that we haven’t tried yet,” Charles said, avoiding the look of pity he saw in Stephen’s eyes. “We will try a few more before we go find the others. Agreed?”
“Oh, all right,” Robert said reluctantly, casting a glance down the street towards the taverns that lined the opposite side of the lane, each one now noisy as boisterous sailors and fishermen joined the crowds in the twilight hour.
“Then we had best hurry,” Stephen spoke, drawing Robert’s attention back to the shop in front of him, “for it grows late and most of these shops are now closing for the night.”
With that, the three tall men went into the now dim shop, winding their way through the maze of dry goods and packing crates to the back of the store where the owner, a rather fat, dark-bearded man, was busily preparing to close his shop as Stephen had said.
“I say there, old man,” Stephen called to him. “Have you a few moments? We would like to ask you some questions if we may.”
“I am busy! Cannot you see that I am just about to close? I have not time for your questions. Come back tomorrow!” the merchant barked as he looked up from his long sheets where he had just finished writing the tally of the day. Seeing Stephen standing before him, he looked quite surprised and dropped the lists on the counter before speaking in less agitated tones, “Why, Mr. Montieth sir. I had no idea it was you! I thought that you would be more than halfway to Crete by now! What brings you back to our island so soon?” he exclaimed as he waddled around the counter to stand before Stephen. Looking up into his stern face, he spoke quickly, “I trust that the goods that I sold you two weeks ago were satisfactory. I assure you that I made my workers be very careful! Nothing was damaged, was it? I will be happy to reimburse you if there is!”
Stephen looked from the squat little man to Robert and Charles who stood just behind him. Robert’s smile was large and true, and there was a glimmer of tears in his eyes as the light from the lantern on the counter next to them illuminated his face. Charles nodded his head with happiness and took a hold of Stephen’s hand and arm, pumping it excitedly as the little man looked on in confusion.
“You were right!” Charles exclaimed to Stephen. “We couldn’t miss having you along with us! This man believes that you are Simon!”
“I knew that we would find him.” Stephen laughed. “I knew it! He cannot hide when his mirror image can follow him wherever he goes!”
The merchant was casting a puzzled frown from one man to the other, unsure of what was happening. Stephen turned back to the merchant, and taking a gold coin from his jacket, he pressed it into the man’s hand.
“But . . . but what is this for?” the shopkeeper asked, looking from the coin to Stephen’s face and, for the first time, noticing that Stephen had a deep scar on his face unlike the smooth jaw of the Mr. Montieth that he knew. Gasping, he drew back a few steps and uttered in a moan, “He warned me not to tell anyone he had been here, and the captain of the Pepperwind told me that they did not want to be followed! Oh, please, sir.” He cried plaintively, clutching Stephen’s arm in his now sweaty hands, dropping the coin to the floor. “Do not tell them that I gave them away! I beg you, do not tell them!”
“We won’t, sir, I assure you.” Lord Dagon stepped forward to calm the man. “Just tell us one more thing. Was there a beautiful red-haired woman on board their ship?”
The Spaniard looked warily at the large strangers then noticed the anxious looks on their faces. He realized his opportunity to make a profit from them now that he felt certain that he was safe and scratched his head as if in thought. Robert noticed the man’s hesitation and, recognizing his ploy, quickly withdrew several gold coins from the pouch within his pocket and handed them to the fat man, anxious to find out about Leigha. The bearded man grinned and took the coins, first biting one to be sure it was real before he finally answered.
“There was a lady, I believe,” he said, pretending he was deep in thought. “Ah yes, a most beautiful woman she was too! Very small with golden red tresses and sparkling green eyes. Mr. Montieth was quite angered when we came to the ship, and he saw her standing at the railing, watching everything on the wharf. I could not understand his anger though, for there was a giant of a man standing by her, as a guard I suppose, and I’m certain that not even the roughest of men would have dared do anything untoward the girl with him there beside her.”
“That’s Leigha! She’s alive!” Robert yelled as he raised his arms up into the air and shook his fists, alarming the merchant. Turning towards Lord Charles, he said, “She is alive and well, Father! She is well?” He whirled around and asked the owner of the shop who quickly nodded his head in assent, amused by the younger man’s antics. Robert then turned to Stephen and said, “Thank you for coming with us. Through you, we have now found my wife!”
“Your wife?” the shopkeeper exclaimed, totally stunned by the news. “But I thought she was Mr. Montieth’s wife the way he was towards her, and she was—” He broke off in midsentence so as not to anger these men with his knowledge of Leigha’s pregnancy, a fact he had gathered when Simon had requested extra material and had smilingly avoided the merchants sly questions.
“She was what?” Charles questioned the dark man. “Tell us! She was what?”
“Sh-she was with ch-child,” the merchant barely whispered, taking a step backwards for the mood of the men before him was no longer friendly as he had feared and had turned alarmingly dark and threatening.
Lee, Virginia Dagon’s Blood Kindle Edition.