Rone and Charlotte shuffled out of the crowded gateway and into an open thoroughfare, dragging the slave girl between them. The girl’s dirty dress, once a light-colored slip now darkened to a muddy brown by abuse and weather, clung to her thighs as she stumbled behind resistively. Despite the rain, the tenements that crowded the south wall of Masala felt hot and stuffy, and smoke from brick chimneys faded to match the grey overhead. The sea was close, but from the feel of the air, nobody there would have known it. They followed a winding path, away from the gate and through a slum.
“Here,” Rone said, and pulled both Charlotte and the slave into a narrow alleyway. A dog, emaciated and frightful looked up at them from where it rummaged through a pile of refuse. It ran away as they pushed past, stopping to stare at them from a stair step where the alley ended in more clustered wooden houses.
“You’re gonna get it,” the slave said.
“Quiet,” Rone said, and removed a tall satchel from the inside of his tattered coat. He undid a leather cord around it and opened it, revealing a row of metal tools. He pulled out a few bent pieces of scrap: a rake and flat wrench. “Sit down.” He pointed at the ground. The slave girl looked up into his hard, yellow-green eyes and sat down quickly, the dirty dress pulling back to reveal legs that looked shining white compared to the road grit that covered her bare arms and shins.
“Why are we stopping here?” Charlotte said. She looked at the entrance the alley nervously.
“Cutting loose the baggage,” Rone said. He put the flattened wrench into the large lock on the slave girl’s shackles and quickly began raking through its two tumblers. “Which I’d bothered finding the key.” A few seconds later, the first shackle fell away and landed in the alley with a dull thud.
“What are you doing?” The slave said.
“I’m setting you free, what does it look like?” Rone said.
“Marcos has brothers on the road behind him,” the girl said, holding up her other wrist. “They’ll be looking for me when they find his body, and for you.”
“I’m quite good at not being found,” Rone said. He picked the lock on the second shackle. The girls rubbed her wrists, which were flaking and covered with mild iron sores.
“What now?” the girl said.
“You run, and stay hidden, and do whatever you will with your life,” Rone said. “Consider it my thanks for helping us through the gates.”
“Maybe I’m getting soft and should just kill you, eh?” He flashed the girl a grim smile.
“What about this?” The girl said. She pulled up the dingy sleeve of her dress and revealed a brand of two letters.
“They branded a woman?” Charlotte said.
Rone tilted his head. “Odd. Must be a runner.”
“It’s barbaric, doing that to a woman,” Charlotte said.
“It’s likely she ran away a few times,” Rone said. “Well, nothing I can do about that. Not here, anyways. I might recommend you find a friend with a hot iron to stamp it out. Won’t be very fun.” Rone flinched as Charlotte shoved a folded piece of paper into his arms. “What’s this?”
“Title papers,” Charlotte said. “I found them in her owner’s bags. We could have her cleared.”
“I’m not much on forgeries. Even if I was, we don’t have the time.” Rone handed the paper to the slave, who turned it over, wondering. “I’m sure you can find someone to forge a clerk’s stamp for a modest sum.”
“You don’t know anyone?” Charlotte said. She lifted her head, revealing clear blue eyes, and locked them on Rone.
“No,” Rone said, and looked away. He stepped past the slave and grasped Charlotte’s arm. “Let’s keep moving.”
“Wait,” Charlotte said. She knelt down by the slave girl and pulled from a pouch at her waist a handful of silver coins. “Take this. It should be enough to get you started. New clothes, a few days’ worth of meals-”
“Try a few months!” the girl said, her eyes widening as the coins fell into her palms.
Rone scoffed audibly and Charlotte turned back to give him a frown.
“Fine,” Rone said. He looked at the slave. “There’s a man that goes by the name of Getty, a few streets away from the docks in a book shop. If he charges you more than twenty cyprals for a forgery, he’s cheating you.” He looked at Charlotte. “Let’s go. Now.”
Charlotte cast a last look at the slave girl, have a half-hearted smile, then jogged after Rone as he exited the alleyway and joined in the throng of people traveling the city on their morning business. She pulled up beside him, trying her best to match his long, swift stride.
Quietly he spoke, “If you wake up to a dagger in your belly tonight, remember that it was your kindness that brought it on.”
“We couldn’t just leave her like that,” Charlotte said back, her voice aloud.
“Shh!” Rone said. His continued quietly, and calmly, “Yes we could. Turning her loose was enough. It would keep her owner’s brothers off of us, and earn plenty of gratitude from the girl. Now you’ve shown her coin. Not just a pinch of copper to get supper, either, but probably as much as she would have been sold for. Enough to really matter.”
“That was the point. She could have a real life with that, and a little smarts.”
“It was foolish. Urchins talk to other urchins. We throw away silver like that, she’ll know we have gold. She’s a slave. Don’t think for a moment she won’t fall in with a pimp or worse here. Eyes and ears will be searching for that money. For us.”
Charlotte cast her eyes down and trust her hands into her pockets. “I’m sorry.”
Rone sighed audibly. “What’s done is done.”