BUSINESS SCENTS

 Illustration by Susan Cook! Click the image for a bigger version!

Illustration by Susan Cook! Click the image for a bigger version!

Fetch the sandalwood, Farridon signed. Quickly now.

Algon sighed and slid off the stool, letting it screech across the flagstones. Farridon shuddered, his ears flicking in distaste. Smirking at the skunk’s discomfort, Algon went through to the back room.

Shelves lined the walls, each one crowded with vials and bottles. Quickly the young man clambered up onto a stool and brought a heavy jar down from one of the highest, holding it gingerly in both hands. Back out in the workroom, Farridon rapped one paw on the table in frustration.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Algon muttered. He came out, nudging the door to the storeroom closed with one foot, and slid the sandalwood extract onto the table.

Took long enough, Farridon signed. Now then-

The bell to the shop jingled as someone pushed the door open, and Algon swore the skunk actually smiled, damn him.

“Yes, yes, I’ll go see to the customer,” the boy muttered, ignoring Farridon’s signs. “Don’t carry on until I’m back, ok? I want to see this.”

He pushed the heavy velvet curtain that separated the shop from the workroom aside and went through into the perfumerie.

The shop wasn’t large, but the tiny bottles on display made it feel roomier than it should. Each one lay on a silk cushion, glittering in the midmorning sun. Only a small podium with a ledger on it spoiled the delicate grace of the shop, and even that was as minimal as possible.

The man that had entered the shop was about fifty, his face whitened by powder. The tiny embroidery on his doublet had threads of gold in it and Algon smiled as he bowed.

“Lord Bawdler,” he said. “Such a pleasure to see you again.”

“Ah yes,” Bawdler said, voice breathy and high. “Now, don’t tell me. It’s Algernon, hmm?”

“Almost, Lord Bawdler. Algon, but I’ll answer to most things.” The boy grinned. “Now, what can we do for you here at Farridon’s?”

“Haha, well, I’m just, ah, browsing for now,” the lord said, and began to make his weekly tour of the shop. Algon watched him from one side, resisting the urge to chuckle.

Always the same. He comes in, forgets my name, pretends to browse, then buys Meadowbank’s Bliss, Algon thought. He allowed his eyes to drift around the shop. Soon have to dust; floor’s clean enough, but it hangs in the air. And Farridon’s hair…

He heard the clink of glass against glass from behind the curtain and bit back a scowl. Before he could do much more than take a breath, though, Bawdler picked up a small blue bottle.

“Can you perhaps tell me about this one?”

Algon forced a smile. “Of course, my lord. That’s Mermaid’s Caress.” He took the bottle out of the man’s unresisting hand and held it gently in his own, turning it so that it caught the light. The stopper was shaped like a water droplet and the name was painted on in silver paintwork so delicate that it was almost invisible. “Citrus head notes open the senses to a melange of sensations, from freshness of sage to the light and scintillating summer berries. From there, a veritable feast awaits you as the middle notes bring a hint of sea salt and…”

As his mind unreeled the sales pitch from rote, Algon watched the lord’s face. It wasn’t in the affected twist of his mouth or in the hands clutched around a handkerchief, ever ready to ward away fouler smells. No, he decided the true panic was in the depths of the man’s eyes. Nothing he was saying was going in, and when Algon finally unstoppered it and dapped a little onto the man’s wrist he would say-

“Ah yes, very good, very good,” Bawdler murmured, right on cue. “I’m certainly getting the, lemon, was it? Yes.”

Algon stoppered the bottle and put it to one side, then reached behind himself. Without even looking, he switched the Mermaid’s Caress for Meadowbank’s Bliss, bringing it out with all the flourish of a festival mountebank. “Ah, but this, my lord, I know subtlety when I see it. A man of taste, one might say.”

Two minutes later, clutching the tiny bottle of Bliss, Lord Bawdler let the door close behind himself. Algon sighed and shook his head. “Always the same,” he murmured.

He sniffed and scowled, pushing back through the curtain. Farridon was crouched over the worktable, glass stirrer clutched in his paw, and he barely looked up as his apprentice entered.

“I see you’ve gone ahead and finished without me,” Algon snapped.

I haven’t the time to wait for you, Farridon signed one-pawed. I have wonders to make. Did Bawdler perform his usual dance around the shop?

“You know as well as I do that he hasn’t got a clue what he’s buying,” Algon said. “So. What was in this one apart from the sandalwood?”

Some other things.

“In what proportions?”

Farridon shook his head. I’ve made it once, and you missed your chance to see it then, he signed dismissively. It’s not my fault that you were out there doing your job, now, is it?

Algon bit back a retort, laying his hands flat on the worktable instead. “Look, this happens every time. You do everything you can to prevent me actually learning this trade. I’ve got, what, a week before judgements will be made on the apprentices and, right now, I can’t make any of our stock-in-trade! Sure, I can sell it to powder-faced buffoons who don’t know their bottom notes from their arse, but-”

But nothing! That is enough! Farridon reared over him, his furry head almost touching the ceiling. You are my apprentice, and you do what I say. If I say that you sell my perfumes to customers - loyal customers, mind - then that is what you do! Anything I grant you beyond that is a blessing. The skunk let his paws rest in the final sign for a moment, then slowly relaxed. Now. Go attend to your chores. Teaching is done for the day.

“Some teaching,” Algon muttered, but before Farridon could respond the boy ducked through the curtain and into the quiet shop.

Before long the first of the day’s truly knowledgable customers, a squirrel by the name of Foxtrot, came in, followed a few moments later by a badger. As morning bled into afternoon and Algon chatted with a friendly rabbit, Farridon himself came through and took up post by the podium.

Exquisite, the rabbit signed. The way the honeysuckle works perfectly with the vanilla, and complements the rest… I can pick each scent out.

Farridon yipped something and the rabbit turned away. Algon scowled as he watched his master completely destroy the sale, watched the rabbit’s body language become defensive, until finally she turned and left with paws empty.

“I had that,” Algon hissed, as soon as the shop was open. “Do you want me to do my job or not?”

I was listening, Farridon signed. You weren’t talking about the way the scents play off one another. I’ve told you about this before.

“And I’ve told you before that it’s hard to describe something I physically can’t experience! But if you just let me see what’s in all these properly, give me a proper grounding in the basic theory, don’t you think I could sell you a lot more perfume?”

Farridon shrugged. Perhaps. But you’re asking me to share my art with you at the risk that you still won’t be able to grasp it.

The doorbell rang again and Algon shuddered his way into a salesman’s smile. “Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to… oh! Guildmaster Torvit!”

Framed in the doorway was a bear, black fur covering almost its entire body. Its face was white, but for black patches around his eyes. In any human it would have made them look exhausted; for Guildmaster Torvit, the effect was one of stately education. He was wearing a purple jacket and a belt covered in wide pouches, each bulging with something different.

Farridon began to growl and yip at the guildmaster but Torvit shook his head. Sign for the boy. Spoken aloud, it was a growl, but his paws moved in harmony with his words for Farridon. We’ve spoken about this before, Farridon.

The skunk began to stiffly sign. Guildmaster Torvit, to what do we owe this… unexpected visit?

This young man. He found sixteen summers this year, and as a ward of the guild it’s time for him to be assessed as a journeyman. Is he ready?

Farridon gestured to Algon to answer, fixing him with a beady eye.

“I can sell you anything,” the boy said, after a moment. “Any of the perfumes in this shop. I can tell you their history and the notes that make them sing. I can tell you some of the interactions… but I don’t know how to make any of them, or the more subtle interplay between the ingredients.”

Torvit raised one furry eyebrow, but before he could reply Farridon was there.

He does well despite the drawbacks of being human, the skunk said. I’m sure you’ll remember that when it comes time to assess him.

Torvit sat back on his haunches and scratched at his nose with one long claw. That’s not the way it works, he said after a moment. When I assess him, it will be to the high standards of the Guild as a member in his own right. The bear breathed in deeply and nodded. As always, Farridon, your scents are interesting and unique, and you set the trend for a great many here in the city. I hope that your legacy, your apprentice, will continue on in the same line. We shall see in a week.

Algon watched as Farridon’s expression changed, as though he’d accidentally smelled his own scent glands. The skunk was just about able to splutter out a farewell before Torvit nodded to them both, turned, and left.

“Guess I’d better get practicing,” Algon said, barely able to suppress a grin. “What do you plan to show me first?”

Farridon’s whiskers twitched. Nothing, he signed. Torvit is mistaken, you know. A human like you would never be able to achieve what I have here. You are simply not equipped, boy.

With that, the skunk turned and swept through the curtain, letting it billow out behind him, and was gone.

 

The fountain plaza was crowded, more than a few traders kneeling on blankets and low pillows with their wares spread out in front of them. Around the rim of the marble fountain itself, in the shadow of the carved dolphins that spat water into the air, people chatted and idled. There was a shifty-eyed woman in a longcoat observing the crowd; there was a giant kestrel, deep in conversation with what looked like a jerboa. The air rang with the cries of the vendors and the chatter of the city. Above it all, a young woman’s voice pierced the hubbub.

“Algon! Over here!”

The boy looked in the direction of the shout and grinned when he saw Dorothy. Her ginger hair poked out at all angles from under a once-white headscarf that was smeared with soot, freckles splashed across her grinning face. He dodged around a pair of guildmasters in the middle of a blazing row and trotted towards her.

“I wondered if you’d be here,” he said, “this close to the assessment.”

“Eh. It’s not everything, y’know. We have to live a life, and enjoy it, or what’s the point?” She grimaced. “Not that Master Joaquin thinks that. But stuff him, what does he know?”

Algon shook his head, chuckling. “Everything, to hear you talk about him before. Come on, it’s busy here; fancy a beer?”

“It’s the middle of the day,” Dorothy said, but allowed herself to be led out of the plaza and towards a tavern bustling with folk. The shingle outside swung in the breeze, a large pawprint carved out of wood. Inside, Dorothy squeezed onto a barrel table in between a group of sailors and a large solitary cat with unusually humanlike eyes.

Algon went to the bar, returning a minute later with a foaming tankard and a wooden tumbler of milk. Dorothy raised the milk in toast. “What’s the occasion, then?”

Algon raised his own tankard. “To… to the challenges ahead.”

They drank, Dorothy watching him over the rim of her cup.

“Not a good week then, I take it,” she said, as he wiped foam from his upper lip.

“Had better.” Algon shook his head. “Farridon… y’know, I’m indebted to the guild for taking me in after… after whatever happened to my parents.”

“Me too,” Dorothy said quietly. “You, me, all the wards.”

“But… why him? He’s so obviously unsuited for it!”

It was her turn to laugh quietly, almost unheard over the chatter. “Why not say what you really feel?”

“Ha. I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything. I can’t tell you what any of the perfumes have in them quantity-wise. Sure, I’ve memorised the stuff he’s given me… but that’s sales.”

“So you’ve learned to be a salesman.”

“Despite him, not because of him.” He took another swig from his tankard. “What about you? It’s assessment time for you too.”

“Eh, sort of. The Blacksmiths take a bit more of a practical approach to everything. Everyone needs us, so sales are pretty guaranteed. Fittings on an ox’s harness broken? You need a blacksmith. Dull knife? Blacksmith. Need nails?” She gestured to herself. “And Richarde, he’s one of the better ones, y’know? Sure, I started stoking the fire and pumping the bellows, but lately he’s been letting me take more of an artistic direction with it.” She brightened, sitting up straight and digging inside the neck of her tunic. “Here, look!”

Dorothy pulled out a piece of leather thong to which was attacked a delicate twist of iron. It was about a handspan long, curved back on itself at one end, and came to a thin flat edge at the other. It weighed almost nothing, and as Algon turned it over in his hand he ran his fingers over the clean edges and smooth curves.

“It’s… well, it’s beautiful,” he said. “I’m almost ashamed to say this, but what is it?”

She stuck her tongue out at him and grabbed it off him. “It’s a combination bottle opener and tool,” she said. “Look, the curved bit here is for those fancy bottles that the southerners bring with them on long journeys, with the metal caps that are all cinched closed. The other end? Well, it’s for all sorts of things. Prying things open, getting stones out of hooves, cleaning grooves… and the thong goes through the curved bit, see? It’s something that I think looks good as jewellery as well as having practical uses.”

Algon stared at her, mouth slightly open. “That is… that’s maybe the most professional thing I’ve ever heard you say,” he said. He grinned. “Sounded almost like your master said it first.”

She gasped in mock anger and he ducked a swat of her hand. “Cheek!”

“How are any of the others getting on? I don’t think I’ve done much more than nod to them in the street all year.”

“They miss you,” Dorothy said. “I know you’re under a lot of stress, trying to get as much out of your time with Farridon as possible - despite him even. Yimin over at the glassblower’s, they decided just yesterday that he shouldn’t go for his assessment this year. There’s always been that question over whether he was fifteen or sixteen. He’s not too upset; he was given the option, either way. Justine at the leatherworks, she’s doing well. Orders coming out of her ears, I hear.” Dorothy gave a half-shrug. “You should come out one evening, out to the lakeside. You can hear it from their lips.”

He laughed and drained his mug. “I wish I had time. Listen… I’ve got to go. Farridon didn’t really give me leave to have time off, but… I didn’t want to miss this, y’know?”

“I know.” She put her own empty cup back on the table and put an arm around him, drawing him close. “It won’t be that bad. You’ll manage your assessment somehow. Farridon knows that it would look awful on him if his apprentice failed out.”

Algon nodded, barely hearing her. He was overwhelmed by the suddenness of being close to her, the feel of her muscles around him and the smell of her - forgefire mixed with something else.

“Um, don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, blushing furiously, “but you smell really good.”

She released him and gave him an odd look, and not for the first time he wondered if there was some hidden message he wasn’t hearing. “It’s probably lavender oil,” she said eventually. “We wear it when we’re working with animals. Not uplifts, they hate it, but oxen, that sort of thing. Calms them, or so I’m told.”

“It’s not just the lavender,” Algon said. “I can smell that, but it’s mingled in with all the smells of the forge - smoke and fire… And you like it?”

“Yeah. It’s cheap, makes me smell good, and serves a purpose too.” She shrugged. “We get it wholesale from a farmer out in the sticks somewhere, brings it in as a bit of an afterthought, I think. Why?”

He shook his head. “Because I’ve had a really good idea. I need to go.” He got up, and on impulse hugged her. “Thank you!”

As he pulled away, he saw that his own blush was suddenly mirrored on her cheeks. He grinned and ducked out of the tavern.

Algon barely even saw the street as his feet took him back towards the merchant’s district and towards the smaller boutique shops. He stood outside Farridon’s for a moment, unwilling to go back in but equally unwilling to leave. The shop itself had a curved frontage, small windows with squares panes of thick glass allowing for a neat display of the most recent perfumes. Above the door, gold letters picked out his master’s name. Room for my name up there as well, he mused.

The tall door opened, breaking his concentration, as a vole left the shop clutching a small linen bag. Feet dragging with every step but mind churning with ideas, he caught the door just before it closed and slipped inside.

 

The week passed in a flash, and it seemed to Algon that Farridon had set his sights on failure for him. Every moment of perfume manufacture, there was something for the boy to do - cleaning, shopping for more ingredients, giving directions to the glassblowers for more bottles and, of course, selling to customers; even just getting the different components meant that Farridon had added each one, hiding the amounts, while Algon was sent scurrying for the next one. The skunk seemed to delight in making it hard for Algon.

Nevertheless, he found time around the ridiculous list of chores to spend some time alone in the workroom, and as the day of the assessment dawned he had everything he needed.

A festival air had descended upon the city, and as Algon snuck out before the shop opened he couldn’t help but grin despite the fluttering nervousness in his stomach. Bunting dripped from every post and corner, paper lanterns blowing gently in the wind, and everyone he saw seemed to have some sort of guild livery on, just like his.

Dorothy was at an anvil as he approached, a fine sheen of sweat already covering her. Somewhere in the back of the work area he could see Richarde de Forien, her master, pottering around, and he darted towards her quickly.

“Boo,” he said, between her hammerblows.

“God,” she said, the hammer slamming onto the anvil as she jumped. “Do not ever do that, Algon, or I will smack this hammer so hard into that smug face of yours-”

“Hey, hey,” he said, grinning. “Just come to wish you the best of luck today. Not that you need it.” He took a step back and considered her. “Nice apron. New?”

She brushed her hands down the finely-tooled leather apron. A hammer striking an anvil had been picked out in the design, her guild’s sigil. “Richarde had it made. Said it was a congratulations gift; I told him off. I haven’t been assessed yet!” She raised an eyebrow. “You look alright yourself.”

“Ugh, thanks.” He patted down the puffy purple velvet of his doublet and adjusted the collar of his shirt. “Can’t say I think much of the colour. Or the style. Or the trousers… they’re tight.”

She raised an eyebrow and gave him a smile that curled excitingly through him. “I don’t know. I think you look… dashing. And professional.”

“Yeah, well, Farridon at least had these made. Or, more likely, someone further up in the guild makes sure that all the apprentices get one. I’m sure it’ll come out of my wages.” He shook his head. “Anyway. You’ll be fine.”

Richarde came out from the back area of the shop and Dorothy picked her hammer back up. “Got to get going. Boss is watching. I’ll see you later, at the fountain, yeah?”

“Sure.”

She thrust the metal she was working on into the forge and bent to work again, and as Algon slipped away back towards the shop he heard the rhythmic ringing staccato of her work.

Farridon was waiting for him as he went into the shop.

Are you ready?

Algon didn’t answer him, but went out into the workroom. From a small box under the table he took out three bottles, each one labelled with his neat handwriting.

From the box he also pulled a piece of board that he had covered with a piece of purple velvet - the remains of an old guild uniform - and onto this he placed the bottles, arranging them so that labels were visible.

“I’m ready,” he said, bringing his small display into the shop and placing it on the podium that usually held the ledger. He felt a twinge of satisfaction as Farridon’s eyes narrowed, nose flaring this way and that as he tasted the air.

When did you make those? They had better not be decanted from shop stock, the skunk signed. I will know, as will Torvit.

“They’re not,” Algon said. “These are entirely of my own design.”

Show me.

Algon finished arranging the display on the podium and shrugged. “Why not?” He picked up the first bottle and took a deep breath.

“First, the bottle. I had these blown at short order from the Glassblowers’ Guild. You sent me there for more of our own bottles, and I’m friends with someone there. This one’s a fine example of his work - sturdy glass, cylindrical, stopper.”

Looks artless, Farridon said. He sniffed. I thought I had taught you delicacy.

Algon bit back his first retort and unstoppered the bottle instead. “Here.”

He held the stopper up, but Farridon waved it away with one paw, breathing in deeply instead. His eyes bulged and he choked, coughed, then wiped at his own nose.

What in god’s name is that? It’s… it’s like being hit in the face with a sledgehammer. Farridon’s signs grew sharper as he loomed over Algon, but the boy remained unbowed. Are you trying to beggar me?

“It’s bergamot,” Algon said.

I can tell that for myself, idiot boy, the skunk said, furiously sniffing at the air. And the head notes? Middle notes? I’m only getting the bergamot-

“That’s because that’s all there is,” Algon said quietly.

Farridon just stared at Algon. You mean to tell me that you, an apprentice for one of the finest weavers of exotic scents and sensations in the great city of Centrum, have presented for your guild assessment, no less, this… rubbish?

For a moment, Algon was sure that Farridon was going to strike him and he steeled himself for it, but the skunk merely barked out a laugh. I can see Torvit coming along the street, he signed. Explain it to him. See how far you get.

Algon took up post next to his products as Farridon leaned cockily against the wall. Outside, a shadow passed over the right-hand window, then covered the smaller window in the door. The door opened, even its usual tinkle seeming muted.

Torvit stepped in.

The guild master was arrayed in finery; his jacket was purple velvet, like Algon’s and Farridon’s, but where theirs was simply decorated his was covered in tiny decorations picked out in gold thread. A matching floppy hat sat on his head, ears poking through holes. Around his neck hung a golden chain of office, tiny perfume bottles dangling from it and clinking occasionally as he moved.

Algon wasted no time, sweeping into a low bow as the guild master entered. “Guild Master Torvit, good morning.”

Good morning, Algon. Now then. The bear came into the centre of the room and crossed his paws in front of him. What do you have to show me?

Algon took a deep breath, trying to quell the cramping in his stomach, and began.

“I’m a human,” he said, picking up one of the bottles. “My nose, and my senses in general, are not as good as Master Farridon’s, or yours; in fact, they never will be. I could train every day and never hope to match you.”

Flattery will get you nowhere, Torvit signed, but Algon put a hand out to stop him.

“Not flattery, sir, but fact. And fact that is true of the several humans who come in here. Most of them come in for the sheer social currency of being seen to shop at Farridon’s… but none of them will be able to appreciate the perfumes we sell here on the same level that you do, or any uplift.”

Algon sighed as he turned the little potion bottle around his hands, feeling the cut-glass facets sharp under his touch. “Now, it’s good sales practice to make sure that the customer feels they are getting the very best… but the price we sell things for in here puts them out of reach of most. I propose a compromise. I propose a range of scents not just aimed at humans, but aimed at all humans no matter their station - not just the most wealthy.”

He stepped to the side, the showman in full flow, and Torvit leaned closer to view the products. The one that Algon held was by far the most complicated, cut into a diamond shape and filled with a clear liquid. The other two were the simple cylinder he had shown to Farridon, and one that was globe-shaped.

“These are one- and two-note scents,” Algon said. “They come in bottles sturdy enough that they could be handled roughly if needed, or even dropped once or twice without shattering - designed for life and for living, you might say. Because they are less complicated than the scents we sell here, they are also able to be sold at a lesser price - more readily available, is perhaps a better way to say it.”

Torvit picked up one of the bottles and unstoppered it, handling it easily despite his paws. He sniffed once, sharply, then more slowly, before replacing the stopper. He picked up the other two, one at a time, and repeated the process, signing nothing.

“The real benefit to these, though, is who I would sell them to,” Algon said. “They’re for specific types of jobs - the first three in a series, perhaps. This one is designed for use by those who work the land - farmers, and the like. Where traditionally we might introduce notes that mimic soil and greenery, the customer brings those notes themselves - their own experiences and work providing part of the sensation.” He gestured to the other two in turn. “This one is for those who work in taverns and similar places - combined with hops and the sour sweetness of ale or beer, it adds a note of freshness that lifts the whole experience. And finally, one for smiths.” He smiled. “Combined with hot metal, woodsmoke and coals, this brings a calming and soothing note.”

Torvit looked sideways at Farridon. Did you work with him to develop these?

Farridon licked his nose nervously. No. Selling to the poor has never been a priority, guildmaster.

“It’s my belief, guild master, that we are missing out on potential customers,” Algon said. “Common folk - the lower classes of the city who previously haven’t been able to access complicated scents, but who want to feel special. Sure, there are cheap perfumes available from less-reputable sellers - mostly alcohol-based scents - but these are designed to enhance what they already have rather than cover it up.”

Torvit was silent for a moment, looking from the bottles to Algon, to Farridon, and back to the bottles. Then slowly his great bear paws came together in a thunderous clap, one becoming two, becoming a round of applause. Slowly, Algon let his breath out.

Very good, Torvit signed. Very clever. He turned to Farridon. What are your sales figures like to humans?

Farridon bared his teeth. The boy does most of the sales, he signed grudgingly.

“Not good,” Algon said. “They’re maybe only one in twenty of the sales. But with these, promoted to humans specifically?” He shrugged. “Who knows?”

You wouldn’t be able to sell them out of here, Torvit signed. There is an expectation appended to this shop. People know it for the highest quality of perfumes sold in a way that makes them seem premium. Although… The bear grinned. I am starting to wonder what effect removing you from this shop would have on Farridon’s sales figures.

“My master has taught me to sell, if nothing else,” Algon said. No word of a lie there.

Torvit nodded. He shuffled closer to Algon and rested one giant paw on the boy’s shoulder. Well then. By the power invested in me as master of the Guild of Perfumieres, I hereby award you the rank of journeyman. Congratulations, Algon.

Algon grinned, bowing low. “Thank you, Guild Master.”

 

It was a month before Algon was able to find time to see Dorothy again, a month filled with a flurry of activity. His stall, outside the front of Farridon’s, was stacked with bottles of scent and colourful labels, and she waited as he packed everything away into crates.

“Hey,” she said, hands in her pockets. “How’s business?”

He grinned. “Mad. ‘Smell like a human’ is the new craze, and I’ve got animals and humans both wanting to buy my stuff.” He pulled out a small bottle and handed it to her. “Here. A gift - it’s called Blacksmith’s Balm.”

“Thanks.” She stowed the bottle into her apron pocket, and he caught the delicate earthiness of leather and smoke as she moved. “So. What now?”

Algon gestured over his shoulder. “Well, Farridon doesn’t want me to leave.” Through the window, they could see the skunk in the shadows of his shop, moving the tiny bottles around. Algon dropped his voice and leaned in conspiratorially. “It wasn’t really until I came out here that I could see how dark it is in there - most uplifts can see in that sort of light, but for us? It’s really unwelcoming.”

“So you’ve made it, despite everything,” Dorothy said. “I’m pleased for you, Algon, really.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” He put his arm out, crooked at the elbow, for her to slip her hand around. “Now then. A drink?”

Arm-in-arm, the two journeyman crafters walked off into the scents and sights of the city.